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An Examination Of Industry's Desired Traits For Engineering Graduates And Gender Differences

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Knowing our Students, Faculty, and Profession

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.149.1 - 15.149.9



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Paper Authors


Anna Pereira Michigan Technological University

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Anna Pereira is a graduate student in mechanical engineering. Her research interests include human factors and engineering education.

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Michele Miller Michigan Technological University

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Dr. Michele Miller is an Associate Professor in mechanical engineering. She teaches classes on
manufacturing and controls and does disciplinary research on microelectromechanical systems and precision machining. Her educational research interests include problem solving in the lab and informal engineering education.

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William Helton Michigan Technological University

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Dr. William Helton is an Associate Professor in cognitive and learning sciences. He teaches
classes in human factors and educational psychology and does disciplinary research on attention, expertise, and stress. His educational research interests include cognitive load theory, expertise development, and psychometrics.

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Leonard Bohmann Michigan Technological University

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Dr. Leonard Bohmann is a faculty member in electrical engineering and presently serves as the
Associate Dean of Engineering. His disciplinary research interests are in expanding the use of
renewable energy in electric power systems. He has research interests in gender differences and
how they relate to engineering education as well as methods to increase the participation of
women in engineering.

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Chris VanArsdale Michigan Technological University

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Christopher Van Arsdale is a graduate student in mining engineering. His interests include power systems, controls, and mining.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

An Examination of Industry’s Desired Traits for Engineering Graduates and Gender Differences Abstract

The National Academy of Engineering, among other organizations, regards hands-on ability as an important trait of engineering graduates. However, it is unclear how faculty, students, and industry prioritize hands-on ability relative to other desirable traits. Surveys were given to industrial representatives, faculty, and students asking them to rate hands-on ability among eight other traits. Analysis found that hands-on ability ranked third. Understanding the importance of hands-on ability would better allow engineering curricula to reflect its prioritization. Hands-on ability also has gender associations. Better understanding how industry views this could allow curriculum to prepare its students to meet this obstacle. It would also allow academia to realize the gender association and address it within the institution. These changes could allow better engineering experiences for female engineers as well as males.


An important consideration for curriculum change and improvement is to identify the desirable attributes of a graduating engineer. While calling for significant reforms in engineering education, the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) recommends the Engineer of 2020 have: strong analytical skills; practical ingenuity; creativity; communication; business and management knowledge; leadership; high ethical standards and professionalism; dynamism, agility, resilience, and flexibility; and the habit of lifelong learning1. Other organizations have developed similar lists. For example, in a study pertaining to computer science majors, employers and teaching staff rated the following attributes as highly important: analysis skills, application of knowledge, communication, capacity to learn, information management skills, team competency, ability to work in interdisciplinary teams, ability to work autonomously, and concern for quality as highly important2. The European higher education places emphasis on employability, learner-oriented learning outcomes, and subject-specific and generic competences3, 4. Employability is an overarching trait that is deemed important in graduating engineers5, 6.

Besides academies like the National Academy of Engineering, surveys of engineering industrial representatives and graduates have determined hands-on ability to be important. Duy Nguyen surveyed nearly a hundred individuals from industry and asked them to rate (out of a hundred) the generic qualities and attributes necessary for the development of a professional engineer. The highest ranking category, with a value of 92.30, included hands-on skills7. Although engineers today are not typically hired to tear apart engines, they are still expected to have the hands-on skills. There seems to be a connection between engineering and the ability to perform hands-on tasks. In support of this, when 420 industrial representatives were surveyed in 1999, they identified the ability to connect the theoretical and practical as the highest engineering trait8. McIlwee and Robinson surveyed over four hundred graduates who graduated between 1976 and 1985 in southern California. The surveys revealed that hands-on ability is important in the workplace. Whether the graduate uses hands-on ability on the job or not, “they need to be able to present themselves as someone who is capable of doing so9.”

Pereira, A., & Miller, M., & Helton, W., & Bohmann, L., & VanArsdale, C. (2010, June), An Examination Of Industry's Desired Traits For Engineering Graduates And Gender Differences Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16656

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2010 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015