June 22, 2008
June 22, 2008
June 25, 2008
Educational Research and Methods
13.250.1 - 13.250.20
II: Perceptions of engineering and of engineering design
Faulkner  describes the practice of professional engineers as a tension between being a ‘technicist’ and the true ‘heterogenous’ nature of their work. Both men and women see technical work as ‘real’ engineering, and believe that one’s engineering identity revolves around technical skill. However, engineering practice requires many other skills which are not technically oriented. Engineers who were more focused on the non-technical aspects (such as project management or client liaison) felt that this had an impact on their identity as engineers.
Here we present some results that suggest men and women have different conceptions of engineering design, which we posit may have an impact on their engineering identity.
Defining and Doing Engineering
The definition of engineering varies widely and depends on its source and purpose. The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) acknowledges that engineering has been defined in many ways and adds that it is often referred to as the “application of science” because engineers take abstract ideas and build tangible products from them. Engineering is also defined as “design under constraint,” because to engineer a product means to construct it in such a way that it will do exactly what you want it to, without any unexpected consequences [NAE]. ABET states that engineering is “the profession in which a knowledge of the mathematical and natural sciences gained by study, experience, and practice is applied with judgment to develop ways to utilize, economically, the materials and forces of nature for the benefit of [hu]mankind” [ABET 2008].
We explored how students perceived engineering at various academic levels, and whether male and female engineering students had different understandings of what engineering is and what engineers do. Structured interview data were collected from study participants in their first, sophomore, and junior years. Study participants were asked, “In your own words, would you please define engineering?” Student responses were expressed across a wide range of anticipated responses and were captured as emerging themes (see Table 2). Some sample responses include:
• “…I hardly thought about that before…designing new materials…” (Year 1 Female)
• “…an occupation that requires technical knowledge, critical thinking, and problem solving techniques” (Year 3 Female).
• “The practice of analyzing, and problem solving, and inventing, and building… creating” (Year 3 Male)
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