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School of Engineering

Kristen Bethke Wendell

Associate Professor
Mechanical Engineering
Stacey and Robert Morse Fellow
Adjunct Associate Professor, Department of Education

Kristen Bethke Wendell

Kristen Bethke Wendell

Associate Professor
Mechanical Engineering
Stacey and Robert Morse Fellow
Adjunct Associate Professor, Department of Education

Phone 617-627-2448
Robinson Hall, Room 169
200 Boston Avenue, Medford, MA
engineering education, design practices, learning sciences

Kristen Wendell earned her Ph.D. in science education from Tufts University and her M.S. in aeronautics and astronautics from MIT. She received her B.S. in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Princeton University. She holds an adjunct appointment in the Education Department at Tufts. She leads a research group at the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach (CEEO) and is a founding member of the Institute for Research on Learning and Instruction (IRLI). Her research focuses on characterizing and supporting sophisticated and inclusive discourse practices during engineering learning experiences in undergraduate courses, K-8 classrooms, and teacher education contexts. She serves as PI or co-PI on NSF-funded projects that investigate curriculum and instructional supports for deeper, more equitable knowledge construction among engineering learners. She is an associate editor for the Journal of Engineering Education. Wendell previously served on the faculty at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

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

Department of Mechanical Engineering, Tufts School of Engineering

  • 2019-present: Associate Professor
  • 2016-2019: Assistant Professor

Adjunct Associate Professor, Department of Education, Tufts School of Arts and Sciences


Assistant Professor, College of Education and Human Development, University of Massachusetts-Boston


Research Assistant, Center for Engineering Education and Outreach


Science and Technology Policy Fellow, National Academy of Engineering


Research Assistant, Man Vehicle Lab, MIT

Research Interests: 

Kristen Wendell's research area is engineering education. Her research group studies learning and teaching dynamics in a range of engineering learning environments. Wendell is especially interested in learning experiences that are consistent with the work of disciplinary communities (e.g., practicing scientists and engineers) while also enabling knowledge construction by the learners. She seeks to shed light on barriers that prevent both teachers and learners – especially those from historically marginalized groups – from meaningful participation in engineering. Major projects emphasize community-based engineering curricula and professional development, engineering discourse studies in elementary classrooms, multimedia design notebooking, and responsive teaching for engineering. Wendell’s lab is located at the Tufts Center for Engineering Education and Outreach (CEEO). Below are highlights from recent and ongoing projects, most supported by the National Science Foundation. For more information, visit the Wendell Lab.

  • Wendell is working with Chelsea Andrews, 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.
  • Work Wendell group alumna 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 aimed to uncover the language demands that elementary students must negotiate to make informed, collaborative decisions during an engineering design process.
  • With Jessica Watkins, Aaron Johnson, and the support of the CEEO’s Novel Engineering project, Wendell looked 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 at UMASS Boston 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 and Fay Shaw 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: 
2016: U.S. Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE)
2013: CAREER Award, National Science Foundation
2010: Doctoral Consortium Fellow, International Conference of the Learning Sciences (ICLS)
2006: Service Leadership Award, MIT
2003: Graduate Research Fellowship, National Science Foundation
2003: Hayes-Palmer Prize in Engineering, Princeton University
Selected Professional Activities: 
Associate Editor, Journal of Engineering Education
Steering Committee, EngineerGirl, National Academy of Engineering
Steering Committee, Tufts University Institute for Research on Learning and Instruction
Faculty Fellow, Tufts University Center for Engineering Education and Outreach
Teaching/Courses Taught: 
ME-0171: Engineering Education Design
ME-0043: Mechanical Engineering Senior Design Project