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Bazinga! You’re an engineer…you’re___! A Qualitative Study on the Media and Perceptions of Engineers

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Engineering Identity 2

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.240.1 - 23.240.20



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Paper Authors


Rachel McCord Ellestad Virginia Tech Orcid 16x16

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Rachel McCord is a second year graduate student in the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. Her current research interests include motivation, conceptual understanding and student use of metacognitive practices. She received her B.S. and M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from The University of Tennessee. Her advisor is Dr. Holly Matusovich.

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Bazinga! You’re an engineer…you’re___! A Qualitative Study on the Media and Perceptions of Engineers American television has had a significant impact on shaping people’s perception ofcareers in the medical field, law enforcement, and public office, etc. Television shows like AllyMcBeal, ER, Law and Order, and The West Wing have made a mark on how we view lawyers,doctors, law enforcement officers, and politicians. While a significant amount of television airtime is dedicated to dramatizing careers, engineering careers seem somewhat vacant from theprime time line up. Many studies have been conducted to look at the impact of popular televisionshows on how people view career professionals but little has been done to look at the impact ofpopular media on people’s views of engineers. This pilot study looked at the impact of viewing popular media articles that focus onengineering characters on a person’s perception of an engineer. The study focused on using threepopular media articles (Dilbert, Mythbusters, and The Big Bang Theory) as representations ofengineers. Participants for this study were graduate students at a large research university. Twoparticipants were graduate students in engineering departments and two participants weregraduate students in non-engineering departments. Utilizing individual interviews, participants inthis study were asked to describe their initial mental picture of an engineer from their ownpersonal experiences. Then, a series of media articles was presented to the participants forviewing. After viewing, participants were asked to describe the mental picture of an engineerthey held after watching the media articles. Finally, participants were asked to describe thesimilarities and differences between their original picture and the picture developed afterwatching the media articles. Three major themes developed from the data collected in this study. First, participantsdescribed an engineer as a socially awkward, white male or the stereotypical engineer. Second,participants noted that the representations of engineers in the media reflected the stereotype theyinitially described. The media representations seemed to be quite exaggerated and comical.Finally, participants noted that, though they held a view of a stereotypical engineer in theirheads, their personal experiences with real engineers seemed far from the stereotype. While the participants cited that there were many life experiences that had helped themdevelop a picture of an engineer in their head, many were quick to explain that the charactersportrayed in the media articles were similar to the mental pictures they had developed in theirheads. The results from this pilot study will be utilized to inform future work that will continueto study the impact of media representations of engineers on people’s perceptions of engineersand the engineering career. Based on our analysis, it seems that this work will support a need formore diverse and positive media characterizations of engineers in the media.

Ellestad, R. M. (2013, June), Bazinga! You’re an engineer…you’re___! A Qualitative Study on the Media and Perceptions of Engineers Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19254

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