Engineering is a growth industry with well-paying jobs. But many college students with soon drop out of engineering programs. Or they don’t apply to begin with, says Arash Zaghi, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Connecticut.
Zaghi believes that students with ADHD can be great engineers—with the proper training. And he’s launching a study in the hopes of proving it.
People with ADHD can be some of the most creative engineering students, according to Zaghi. But many programs don’t appreciate the different ways people with ADHD learn. Nor do they reward the innovative thinking of these students.
Most programs focus on using standard methods for solving problems, he explains. For a student with ADHD, that can be very frustrating.
“Even worse,” he says, “we are punishing students if they come up with their own way of solving problems—if [their solution] is not what they learned in the classroom or in a textbook.”
If you tap into the ways people with ADHD learn, the results can be great. Although inattention and impulsivity are often linked with ADHD, these students can be extremely focused. Students with ADHD “do exceptionally well if they are interested and rewarded,” he adds.
So Zaghi and a team of fellow researchers at UConn are studying new ways to teach engineering to students with ADHD. Their approach is designed to build on students’ strengths.
The study is funded by a two-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). That grant will let the team recruit and study more than a dozen engineering students who show signs of ADHD.
Zaghi has also received a second grant from NSF. That one will pay for research internships for eight high-potential undergraduate students with ADHD.
Zaghi knows firsthand the pressures that students with ADHD can feel. His own ADHD wasn’t diagnosed until he was 32.
As a student, he says, “I kept blaming myself when I couldn’t spell certain words or couldn’t remember names. I had to work four or five time harder just to keep up.” With this study, he hopes to encourage the higher education system to nurture students with ADHD, not frustrate them.
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Geri Coleman Tucker is a freelance writer and editor and a former deputy managing editor for