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Analyzing Innovative Behavior Outcomes of Early-career Engineering Graduates

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

ENT Division Technical Session: Creativity and Innovation

Tagged Division

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation

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Paper Authors


Simon Jakob Barth Stanford University

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Simon has a background in condensed matter physics with a finished bachelor and master’s degree at the Technical University of Munich (TUM). In addition, he holds a second master’s degree in management. During his studies, he gained industry experience at different technology and consulting companies before he founded his own business in 2016, an Augmented and Virtual Reality tech consultancy named PrismAR. At the Designing Education Lab, Simon researched on innovative behavior of engineering graduates. Currently, he works for the solar electric vehicle start-up Sono Motors in Munich.

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Sheri Sheppard Stanford University

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Sheri D. Sheppard, Ph.D., P.E., is professor of Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University. Besides teaching both undergraduate and graduate design and education related classes at Stanford University, she conducts research on engineering education and work-practices, and applied finite element analysis. From 1999-2008 she served as a Senior Scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, leading the Foundation’s engineering study (as reported in Educating Engineers: Designing for the Future of the Field). In addition, in 2011 Dr. Sheppard was named as co-PI of a national NSF innovation center (Epicenter), and leads an NSF program at Stanford on summer research experiences for high school teachers. Her industry experiences includes engineering positions at Detroit's "Big Three:" Ford Motor Company, General Motors Corporation, and Chrysler Corporation.

At Stanford she has served a chair of the faculty senate, and recently served as Associate Vice Provost for Graduate Education.

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Shannon Katherine Gilmartin Stanford University Orcid 16x16

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Shannon K. Gilmartin, Ph.D., is a Senior Research Scholar at the Stanford VMware Women's Leadership Innovation Lab and Adjunct Professor in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University. She is also Managing Director of SKG Analysis, a research consulting firm. Her expertise and interests focus on education and workforce development in engineering and science fields. Previous and current clients include the American Chemical Society, the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, California Institute of Technology, the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at California State University Fullerton, the Office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Education at Stanford University, the School of Medicine at Stanford University, and the School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

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It is widely acknowledged that engineers “are foundational to technological innovation and development that drive long-term economic growth and help solve societal challenges” [1]. Consequently, it is a major goal in engineering education to ensure and further improve the development of innovation skills among its students. While many studies focus on current engineering students and their innovation goals and skills, it is also informative to see how these goals and skills are translated into realized innovative behavior in the workplace. By studying the characteristics of innovative behavior of engineering graduates we reveal valuable insights and draw conclusions for engineering educators.

Our quantitative study is based on a dataset of 559 early-career engineering graduates who participated in the Engineering Majors Survey (EMS). EMS is a longitudinal U.S. nationwide survey designed to explore engineering students’ and then later graduates’ technical, innovation, and entrepreneurial interests and experiences. Innovative behavior outcomes are analyzed considering socio-demographic characteristics such as gender and underrepresented racial/ethnic minority (URM) status, and characteristics of the workplace such as industry and company size. Furthermore, we elaborate on the interrelation of innovative behavior and leadership responsibility.

We find no significant differences in innovative behavior of female and male engineering graduates. The same is true for URM and non-URM participants in the study. The data suggest that employees in R&D are engaged more strongly in innovative behavior than the average engineering graduate not employed in R&D. At the same time no significant difference is revealed across a wide range of industries. Interestingly, the fraction of participants who indicated having work assignments involving leadership responsibility report a much higher level of innovative behavior than do their counterparts. This raises questions about the relationship between leadership skills and innovative behaviors, and whether leadership skills should be more strongly taken into consideration when thinking about building innovation skills in engineering education.

[1] National Academy of Engineering 2018. Understanding the Educational and Career Pathways of Engineers. p. 11, Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Barth, S. J., & Sheppard, S., & Gilmartin, S. K. (2020, June), Analyzing Innovative Behavior Outcomes of Early-career Engineering Graduates Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34148

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