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Board # 17 : A Three-Year Study of Adult Undergraduate Engineering Students

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Tagged Topics

Diversity and NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Paper Authors


Maria-Isabel Carnasciali University of New Haven Orcid 16x16

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Maria-Isabel Carnasciali is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Tagliatela College of Engineering, University of New Haven, CT. She obtained her Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Georgia Tech in 2008. She received her Bachelors of Engineering from MIT in 2000. Her research focuses on the nontraditional engineering student – understanding their motivations, identity development, and impact of prior engineering-related experiences. Her work dwells into learning in informal settings such as summer camps, military experiences, and extra-curricular activities. Other research interests involve validation of CFD models for aerospace applications as well as optimizing efficiency of thermal-fluid systems.

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Shannon Ciston University of California, Berkeley

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Shannon Ciston is a Lecturer and Director of Undergraduate Education in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Ciston holds degrees in chemical engineering from Northwestern University (PhD) and Illinois Institute of Technology (BS). She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in technical communications and applied pedagogy, and conducts engineering education research.

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Tressa Kay Mikel University of California, Berkeley

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Aida Marie Morales

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Sanya Sehgal


Melissa L. Whitson University of New Haven

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Associate Professor of Psychology

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Adult learners belong to a large group of individuals for whom lifelong learning is both a desire and necessity and for whom career changes are or will be the norm. This topic is not exclusive to engineering, but impacts many STEM professionals. Adult learners also include those who may have significant family responsibilities, medical issues, work obligations, returning veterans/active service military people, or who lack financial resources to commit to fulltime studies. While online education opportunities may fill some of the gaps, acquiring an identity as a professional in a field or discipline grows with personal connections. The work to date builds on prior research to understand multiple identities and professional identity development and design approach among undergraduate engineering students aged 25 and over.

During this three year NSF funded study, qualitative and quantitative data were collected from three diverse sites including a large public university (____), a small private university (_____), and a community college (_____). Semi-structured interviews, think-aloud protocols, and a large-scale survey have contributed to a rich set of data. Results point to the construction of an identity as “other” among adult engineering students in institutions of various types. The data supports the need for engineering education systems to provide systems that support a broad range of students, as well as opportunities for students to work together across generational differences.

This paper provides an overview of this research study as a whole, summarizing the demographics of the research participants and the data collected. The paper concludes with recommendations on the broader impact of this work, and suggestions for future work.

Carnasciali, M., & Ciston, S., & Mikel, T. K., & Morales, A. M., & Sehgal, S., & Whitson, M. L. (2017, June), Board # 17 : A Three-Year Study of Adult Undergraduate Engineering Students Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--27795

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