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A Multi-Institution Comparison of Students’ Development of an Identity as an Engineer

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Professional Identity

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.69.1 - 22.69.18



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Paper Authors


Holly M. Matusovich Virginia Tech

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Holly Matusovich is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering Education. Dr. Matusovich has a Ph.D. in Engineering Education from Purdue University. She also has a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and an M.S. in Materials Science with a concentration in Metallurgy. Additionally Dr. Matusovich has four years of experience as a consulting engineer and seven years of industrial experience in a variety of technical roles related to metallurgy and quality systems for an aerospace supplier. Dr. Matusovich’s research interests include the role of motivation in learning engineering as well as retention and diversity concerns within engineering education and engineering as a profession.

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Brock E. Barry U.S. Military Academy

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Dr. Barry is an Assistant Professor and course director in the Department of Civil & Mechanical Engineering at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He predominately teaches in the area of engineering mechanics. His current areas of research include professional ethics, economic factors influencing engineering education, identity development, and non-verbal communication. Dr. Barry is a licensed professional engineer with multiple years of consulting experience.

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Kerry Meyers University of Notre Dame

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Kerry L. Meyers is an Associate Professional Faculty member in the College of Engineering at the University of Notre Dame. She received her Ph.D. in Engineering Education from Purdue University in 2009. She also has a B.S. and M.S. in Mechanical Engineering. She has several years of industry design experience, but has since shifted her focus to engineering education with the first-year engineering program. Contact information: phone 574- 631-0972, fax 574-631-8007, or email

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Rachel Louis Virginia Tech Orcid 16x16

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Rachel is a Ph.D. student studying engineering education at Virginia Tech. She has her B.S. and M.S. degrees from The Ohio State University in civil engineering where she specialized in construction. Currently, Rachel is working on research related to the identity of engineering students both at the undergraduate and graduate levels. She is a Dean’s Teaching Fellow where she teaches courses within the first-year engineering curriculum. Rachel is an ambassador for the engineering education program at Virginia Tech and has been an active member of ASEE for several years.

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A Multi-Institution Comparison of Students’ Development of an Identity as an EngineerResearch has shown that identifying with engineering contributes positively to students’persistence in earning an engineering degree. However, current research lacks a clearunderstanding of how students develop identification with engineering and what universities cando to enhance students’ identification with engineering. While some students may enterengineering programs with the belief that he or she is “an engineering-type person”, this is nottrue for all students.To understand the identification process better, the authors have studied the development ofengineering identity beliefs in three widely varying university settings. We examine andcompare 1) a military academy in the eastern United States, where there are known andsuccessful practices for helping students develop an identity, 2) a public university in thesoutheastern region of the United States which, in addition to traditional students, also has astrong, voluntary Corps of Cadets program, and 3) a private university in the mid-western UnitedStates where students have a strong identification with their university’s reputation. Within thesethree settings, we focus on Civil Engineering and Mechanical Engineering as these are two of thelargest, oldest, and most common fields of engineering. Guided by identity theories, ourresearch questions are: 1) What factors contribute to the development of a student’s positive identification with engineering? 2) How does university context influence development of a student’s positive identification with engineering? 3) How does the development of professional identity differ for engineering students than another exemplar major?To understand how identification as an engineer might compare to identification within othermajors, a parallel line of investigation was pursued that focused on students majoring in adiscipline outside of engineering but common to all three academic institutions. The authorshypothesized that students associated with military routines would have a stronger professionalidentification within their chosen academic major.To address these research questions and explore the hypothesis, the authors adopted a qualitativecase-study approach. Given the exploratory nature of this work, research began with interviews.A total of 27 participants (i.e., cases) have been interviewed. This includes 9 at each schoolrepresenting a sophomore, junior and senior in each of the three majors of Civil Engineering,Mechanical Engineering and the non-engineering major. Through our research, we identified thefactors and university contexts that contribute to positive identification with engineering andmake recommendations for transferring results across different university settings.

Matusovich, H. M., & Barry, B. E., & Meyers, K., & Louis, R. (2011, June), A Multi-Institution Comparison of Students’ Development of an Identity as an Engineer Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17351

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