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Career Motivations Of Freshman Engineering And Non Engineering Students: A Gender Study

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Knowing Our Students, Faculty, and Profession

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.306.1 - 14.306.10



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Paper Authors


Marisa Orr Clemson University

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Marisa K. Orr is a doctoral candidate at Clemson University. She received her B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Clemson in 2005. She has been an Endowed Teaching Fellow and is currently chair of the Mechanical Engineering Graduate Student Advisory Committee. In her research, she is studying the way that students progress through a Mechanical Engineering curriculum and terramechanics.

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Zahra Hazari Clemson University

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Zahra Hazari is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering & Science Education and the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Clemson University. She earned a B.S. in physics & mathematics and an M.S. in physics prior to completing a Ph.D. in science education from the University of Toronto. She was a postdoctoral fellow in the Science Education Department at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Her scholarly work focuses on the persistence and performance of under-represented groups in the physical sciences. Dr. Hazari has taught physics and mathematics to undergraduates and pedagogy/methodology in STEM education to pre-service high school teachers and graduate students.

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Philip Sadler Science Education Department, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

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Philip M. Sadler earned a B.S. in Physics from MIT and taught middle school science and mathematics for several years before earning an Ed.D. from Harvard. He now heads the Science Education Department at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. As F.W. Wright Senior Lecturer in Astronomy, he teaches graduate courses in science education and undergraduate science at Harvard University. His work informs national policy debates on the teaching of science and professional development. Dr. Sadler has won awards for his research from the Journal of Research in Science Teaching, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific and the American Institute of Physics. He is the inventor of the Starlab Portable Planetarium and the executive producer of A Private Universe. The materials and curricula that he has developed are used by an estimated fifteen million students yearly.

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Gerhard Sonnert Science Education Department, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

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Gerhard Sonnert is an Associate of the Harvard Physics Department and a Research Manager at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. He received master's and doctorate degrees in Sociology from the University of Erlangen, Germany, and a Master's in Public Administration from Harvard University. One of his major research interests has been the impact of gender on science careers. This research has resulted in two books (both authored with the assistance of Gerald Holton): Who Succeeds in Science? The Gender Dimension and Gender Differences in Science Careers: The Project Access Study.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Career Motivations of Freshman Engineering and Non- Engineering Students: A Gender Study Keywords: career motivation, outcome expectations, gender differences


A social cognitive career theory framework and Vroom’s valence model are used to examine the importance that female freshman engineering students (n=87) place on various career-related outcomes, compared with other female freshmen (n=2236) and with male engineering students (n=484). The female engineering students were significantly different from both groups on several measures. This study finds that, in terms of certain career-related outcome valences, women students who choose engineering are not representative of women students in general, nor are they representative of engineering students in general. On three measures, they do not even fall between both comparison groups.


Engineering professions have been far less successful than other professions at attracting female students. While the overall percentage of Bachelor degrees conferred to women in the 2005- 2006 academic year was 57%, in engineering only 19% of the graduates were women1. This study attempts to shed light on this phenomenon by addressing the following questions: Are the career motivations of females who choose engineering representative of the career motivations of female freshmen in general? Furthermore, how do the career motivations of these female engineering students compare to those of male engineering students? This is achieved by examining the importance, or valence (a term used in psychology to denote the intrinsic attractiveness of an object, situation, or event), that students associate with career-related outcomes.

Two major theories are relevant to the current study. The Social Cognitive Career2 theory gives a broad picture of many variables associated with the development of academic interest, choice, and performance over time. However, in order to examine the relationship between outcome expectations and occupational preference in more depth, the detail provided by Vroom’s Expectancy Theory3, specifically the valence model, is useful.

Social Cognitive Career Theory2 can be used as a lens through which to examine which types of outcome expectations women and men have about an engineering career. According to Bandura’s social cognitive theory4, outcome expectations are the anticipated consequences of a course of action and can be physical, social, or self-evaluative. For example, a student might expect that the outcome of earning an engineering degree will be making money (physical), becoming well-known (social), or developing new knowledge (self-reflective). Lent, Brown, and Hackett used Bandura’s theory to explain the development of career interests, choices, and performance. According to their Social Cognitive Career Choice Model, shown in Figure 1, person inputs, such as gender, affect outcome expectations through learning experiences. Outcome expectations in turn have both direct and indirect effects on choice goals. In this context, a choice goal is the occupation that a person chooses to pursue, which leads to choice

Orr, M., & Hazari, Z., & Sadler, P., & Sonnert, G. (2009, June), Career Motivations Of Freshman Engineering And Non Engineering Students: A Gender Study Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--4872

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2009 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015