San Antonio, Texas
June 10, 2012
June 10, 2012
June 13, 2012
Educational Research and Methods
25.136.1 - 25.136.23
Adult Undergraduate Engineering Student ExperienceEfforts to remain competitive internationally in engineering and technology require thatengineering departments train a diverse set of talented students. One aspect of student diversitythat is often overlooked is student age. Adult learners are an important source of futureengineering professionals, and it is critical that these students are supported through degreecompletion. Because relatively little research has focused on adults as a special populationamong engineering students, this study aims to elucidate adult engineering student experience.Qualitative interview data was chosen as the means to collect rich information about the livedexperience of adult engineering students, providing depth that would not be accessible throughquantitative data. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with ten undergraduate studentsaged 25 or older, focusing on their experience pursuing engineering bachelor’s degrees at asmall, private northeastern university. Interviews were transcribed and analyzed by applyinggrounded theory to identify major themes and connections. The four major themes identified inthe data are: motivations, barriers, strategies, and outcomes. Adult students have a wide varietyof motivations related to supporting themselves and their families, personal challenge andachievement, and intrinsic interest in or identification with engineering. Major barriers tocompleting their degree work include time and financial stresses; barriers which prevented themfrom undertaking engineering degree work earlier in their lives include family means andexpectations, and confidence in math and science. Strategies for overcoming obstacles aretailored to the barriers they experience, but commonly include sleep reduction and seekingacademic and financial assistance from multiple sources. These adult students cite positiveoutcomes including the development of professional skills including time management, conflictresolution, and trouble-shooting. In this paper, we will discuss the findings of our analysis, aswell as connections between our study and related work in expectancy-value theory and adultstudent inter-role conflict. Future work aims to expand data collection to multiple sites, and tocomplement it with quantitative survey data. By understanding the motivations and experiencesof adult engineering students, we aim to provide better service to this important part of thestudent body.
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