June 20, 2010
June 20, 2010
June 23, 2010
Educational Research and Methods
15.227.1 - 15.227.13
Benefits to Non-Engineers of Learning an Engineering Way of Thinking
In this study we seek to describe the benefits of an engineering way of thinking, as gained through an engineering degree program, for individuals who choose non-engineering careers. There is limited literature on this topic. Arguably, this understanding should influence the future of engineering education as fewer than half of engineering graduates remain in “traditional” engineering roles. We surveyed individuals with engineering degrees, but who described themselves as not being an engineer or in an engineering management role (n=112). We also interviewed a few such individuals (n=7). We found that the majority of these individuals still considered themselves engineers, even with a different career focus; it was part of their identity. Most of the respondents who did not consider themselves engineers still greatly valued their engineering training. These individuals described how the systematic and analytical thinking of engineering applied to solving problems in their current work contexts. They also found practical value in their technical competence.
Research indicates a continuing need to better align engineering education with engineering practice1,2. However, many engineering program graduates do not end up in “traditional” engineering positions, or if they do initially, they often move into engineering management or other careers3. Is the only aim of engineering education to prepare students for traditional engineering careers? Arguably, it is not. In this paper, we seek to describe what individuals who do not stay in engineering-related fields see as the key aspects of their engineering education. How do they continue to use the skills and ways of thinking that they learned? We found no research, either empirical or theoretical, that directly addressed these questions.
Arguably, a vast range of factors influences why individuals begin a degree in engineering, finish it, and go into an engineering career. Despite this complexity, we hypothesize that if high-school and college students understood the vast range of professionals who use and value the learning from their engineering degrees, more would enter engineering majors. A first step before testing this hypothesis is to understand how these non-engineering professionals use their engineering education. This hypothesis of improved recruitment is supported by research showing that even first-year engineering students are often unaware of the wide range of careers open to individuals with engineering degrees4.
To understand the benefits of an engineering education, we will first review the literature on the ways of thinking of engineers. This literature relates to the question because, while the specific technical skills learned in engineering often do not apply in other professions, the way of
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