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A Cross-sectional Study of Engineering Identity During Undergraduate Education

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Engineering Identity

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Allison Godwin Purdue University, West Lafayette (College of Engineering) Orcid 16x16

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Allison Godwin, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Engineering Education at Purdue University. Her research focuses what factors influence diverse students to choose engineering and stay in engineering through their careers and how different experiences within the practice and culture of engineering foster or hinder belongingness and identity development. Dr. Godwin graduated from Clemson University with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and Ph.D. in Engineering and Science Education. She is the recipient of a 2014 American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Educational Research and Methods Division Apprentice Faculty Grant. She has also been recognized for the synergy of research and teaching as an invited participant of the 2016 National Academy of Engineering Frontiers of Engineering Education Symposium and 2016 New Faculty Fellow for the Frontiers in Engineering Education Annual Conference. She also was an NSF Graduate Research Fellow for her work on female empowerment in engineering which won the National Association for Research in Science Teaching 2015 Outstanding Doctoral Research Award.

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Walter C. Lee Virginia Tech Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Walter Lee is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering Education and the Assistant Director for Research in the Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity (CEED), both at Virginia Tech. Lee’s research interests include co-curricular support, student success and retention, and diversity in STEM. Among his honors and awards, Lee received a 2012 NSF GRFP. Lee also received an ASEE Apprentice Faculty Grant Award in 2015. He received his Ph.D in Engineering Education from Virginia Tech, his M.S. in Industrial & Systems Engineering from Virginia Tech, and his B.S. in Industrial Engineering from Clemson University.

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This research paper explores students’ engineering, mathematics, and physics identities across the four years of undergraduate engineering education. The focus of this work are subject-related role identities, or how students position themselves and are positioned by others as the kind of people that engage in engineering, mathematics, or physics. An identity as an engineer is a role identity because it embodies a specific character that an individual plays within a social sphere. In this case, the social sphere is in the process of becoming an engineer. Other research has focused on identity development of engineering students, often either early in their undergraduate education (during the first year) or at the end of their undergraduate education when they have developed the discourse and practices of what it means to be an engineer. This work utilizes previously developed instruments with strong validity evidence to gather and compare cross-sectional data on students STEM identities over the four years of undergraduate engineering education at one institution.

We collected data from 644 engineering students at a large, public East Coast university using an electronic survey during the spring semester of 2016. These measures included measures of student engagement in activities related to innovation, student integration, demographic information, and identity measures. The identities measures captured students’ interest in engineering, students’ feeling of recognition by others as an engineer, and students’ beliefs about their performance/competence in engineering. We also measured students’ overall attitudes about their identities as a physics person, math person, and engineer. These items were taken from previously developed instruments for early career engineering students. The data were cleaned using a filter question for a total of 586 valid responses. To ensure evidence for validity, we tested the factor structure of the constructs using exploratory factor analysis and tested the internal consistency of the constructs. We found that the factor structure was consistent for this population and the internal consistency measures (e.g., Cronbach’s α) were well above the recommended cutoff of 0.7 for newly developed instruments and also above 0.8 for developed instruments.

Student responses were compared by students’ year at the university (e.g., first year, second year, third year, or forth or more year) using ANOVA and post-hoc Tukey’s HSD for significant results. The findings illustrate differences in students’ engineering performance/competence and recognition beliefs as well as differences in their engineering, mathematics, physics overall identity measures. The post-hoc Tukey’s HSD tests reveal a consistent pattern of identity development with lower identification in the second year of engineering education progressing to the highest levels in the fourth year. This research provides evidence that these measures can be used with students across undergraduate engineering and that they differentiate among students by year at a university.

Godwin, A., & Lee, W. C. (2017, June), A Cross-sectional Study of Engineering Identity During Undergraduate Education Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--27460

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