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Attitudes that Students Believe Best Characterize Engineers

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Notable Topics in Civil Engineering Education

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

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Paper Authors


Angela R Bielefeldt University of Colorado, Boulder

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Angela Bielefeldt is a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering (CEAE). She serves as the ABET assessment coordinator for the department and its three accredited bachelor's degrees. Professor Bielefeldt is the faculty director of the Sustainable By Design Residential Academic Program, a living-learning community where interdisciplinary students learn about and practice sustainability. Professor Bielefeldt's research interests in engineering education include service-learning, sustainable engineering, social responsibility, ethics, and diversity. Bielefeldt is also a licensed P.E.

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Greg Rulifson P.E. University of Colorado, Boulder Orcid 16x16

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Greg Rulifson is a Civil Engineering doctoral candidate focused on qualitative engineering education research while also completing the Engineering in Developing Communities certificate. Greg earned his bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering with a minor in Global Poverty and Practice from UC Berkeley where he acquired a passion for using engineering to facilitate developing communities’ capacity for success. He earned his master's degree in Structural Engineering and Risk Analysis from Stanford University. His upcoming dissertation will focus on how student's connections of social responsibility and engineering change throughout college and what are the social responsibility-related reasons some students choose to leave engineering.

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Beyond knowledge and cognitive learning outcomes, engineering education should achieve affective outcomes. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has articulated attitudes that are supportive of the professional practice of engineering. This research explored the extent to which engineering students believed that various attitudes were characteristic of both engineers and themselves. Three groups participated in the study: (1) ~120 first year civil, environmental, and architectural engineering students; (2) 18 senior civil engineering students; and (3) 21 students at the end of their junior year of college (in 7 different engineering majors, attending 5 different institutions). Students in all of the groups were presented with a list of 18 attitudes and asked to indicate which five were the most representative of engineers and then which five were most representative of themselves; groups 1 and 2 answered this question as part of a written survey in fall 2015 while group 3 answered the question as part of interviews in spring 2015. The interview participants explained why they ascribed particular attributes to engineers or themselves. Chi-square tests were used to determine if there were differences in the attitudes identified by students as representative of engineers versus personally (95% confidence). The traits most commonly associated with engineers (by 62-49% of the students) were: thoroughness, commitment, curiosity, persistence, and high expectations. The traits least commonly associated with engineers (by only 4-12% of the students) were: sensitivity, empathy, fairness, tolerance, and positivity. There were not significant differences in the attitudes identified for engineers based on the gender, major, or rank of the students. The traits most commonly attributed to themselves (by 52-41% of the students) were: curiosity, respect, commitment, and consideration of others. Differences between the frequency that a trait was attributed to engineers versus personally were found for 10 of the 18 attitudes. On average, students selected two of the same traits for both themselves and engineers. There were some demographic differences in the attitudes that students selected as personally representative. Future work will determine if those with particular personal attitudes and/or perceptions of engineers’ attitudes have differential retention in engineering.

Bielefeldt, A. R., & Rulifson, G. (2016, June), Attitudes that Students Believe Best Characterize Engineers Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26345

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