June 26, 2011
June 26, 2011
June 29, 2011
Educational Research and Methods
22.69.1 - 22.69.18
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.
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