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Science & Engineering Complex
Robinson Hall, Room 169

Tufts University
Medford, MA 02155

Secondary Office Location:
200 Boston Ave., Room G-810

Tel: 617.627.5888
Fax: 617.627.3058
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Kristen Bethke Wendell
McDonnell Family Professor in Engineering Education
Assistant Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering
Adjunct Assistant Professor, Department of Education


Ph.D., Science Education, Tufts University, 2011
M.S., Aeronautics and Astronautics, MIT, 2005
B.S.E., Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Princeton University, 2003

Research Interests

Prof. Wendell’s research in engineering education focuses on characterizing and supporting sophisticated disciplinary practices during engineering learning experiences in K-8 classrooms, teacher education contexts, and undergraduate courses. As a learning scientist, she is especially interested in identifying and understanding learners’ practices that are consistent with the work of disciplinary communities (e.g., practicing scientists and engineers) while also enabling knowledge construction by the learners. Major projects emphasize community-based engineering curricula and professional development, engineering discourse studies in elementary classrooms, multimedia design notebooking, and responsive teaching for engineering.

The Engineering Learning Systems Lab

The ELS Lab is an interdisciplinary group of engineers and STEM educators conducting education research in three main areas: productive disciplinary engagement in engineering, learning to teach engineering, and tools for overcoming barriers to learning and teaching engineering. ELS researchers carefully document what it looks like when children, college students, and K-8 teachers experience intellectual engagement with the engineering discipline. They also study how educators learn to support that kind of experience for all students. This work sheds light on barriers that prevent both teachers and learners – especially those from historically marginalized groups – from meaningful participation in engineering. Other work at the ELS Lab is aimed at developing tools to overcome those barriers. These tools include engineering notebooking software, portable maker spaces, community-based design problems, participatory engineering curricula, and responsive teaching approaches. The ELS Lab is located at the Tufts Center for Engineering Education and Outreach (CEEO). Below are highlights from recent and ongoing projects.

  • Work by ELS Lab doctoral student Jessica Swenson investigates how undergraduates work together on homework problems in engineering science courses such as fluid mechanics. She seeks to understand the stances and triggers that enable engineering students to engage in sense-making and conceptual knowledge development.
  • In collaboration with Patricia Paugh, Christopher Wright, and teacher partners, the reflective decision-making project is aimed at uncovering the language demands that elementary students must negotiate to make informed, collaborative decisions during an engineering design process.
  • The ELS Lab is working with Ethan Danahy, Patricia Paugh, and teachers in South Boston to develop and study a new tablet-based design notebooking app built to promote collaboration and sense-making.
  • With Jessica Watkins, Aaron Johnson, and the support of the CEEO’s Novel Engineering project, we look at whether and how elementary teachers develop a responsive teaching approach to engineering pedagogy, which requires strategies for eliciting, interpreting, and responding to rich student thinking.
  • The Community-Based Engineering project and the ConnecTions in the Making project, both in collaboration with Tejaswini Dalvi and local teachers and administrators, support teachers in learning to integrate engineering design with science inquiry in elementary classrooms, in a context of solving local problems that matter in their students’ communities.
  • The Designing Biomimetic Robots project with Debra Bernstein and Gilly Puttick at TERC and Ethan Danahy at Tufts leverages advances in educational robotics to develop, refine, and study the impact of a biomimetic robotics design curriculum for sixth through eighth grade students.

Selected Honors and Awards

  • Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), 2016
  • National Science Foundation CAREER Award, 2013
  • International Conference of the Learning Sciences (ICLS) Doctoral Consortium Fellow, 2010
  • Service Leadership Award, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2006
  • National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, 2003
  • Princeton Hayes-Palmer Prize in Engineering, 2003

Professional Positions

2016-present Assistant Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Tufts University School of Engineering
2016-present Adjunct Assistant Professor, Department of Education, Tufts University School of Arts and Sciences
2011-December 2015 Assistant Professor, UMass Boston, College of Education and Human Development and Center of Science and Mathematics in Context
2006-2011 Research Assistant, Tufts University Center for Engineering Education and Outreach
2005 Science and Technology Policy Fellow, National Academy of Engineering
2003-2006 Research Assistant, MIT Man Vehicle Lab

Selected Professional Activities

  • Engineering Research Interest Group Board Member for the National Association of Research in Science Teaching (NARST)
  • Faculty Fellow, Tisch College of Civic Life, Tufts University, 2016-17
  • Steering Committee, National Academy of Engineering Engineer Girl program