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CAREER: Ready for Change: Fostering Adaptability along the Engineering Pathway

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Samantha Ruth Brunhaver Arizona State University, Polytechnic School

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Samantha Brunhaver is an Assistant Professor of Engineering in the Fulton Schools of Engineering Polytechnic School. Dr. Brunhaver recently joined Arizona State after completing her M.S. and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University. She also has a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Northeastern University. Dr. Brunhaver's research examines the career decision-making and professional identity formation of engineering students, alumni, and practicing engineers. She also conducts studies of new engineering pedagogy that help to improve student engagement and understanding.

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Susan Sajadi Arizona State University

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Susan Sajadi is a PhD student at Arizona State University within the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Susan has a BS and MS in Biomedical Engineering. Prior to starting her PhD in engineering education, she worked as an engineer in the medical device industry. She is currently conducting research under the direction of Dr. Samantha Brunhaver on fostering adaptability along the engineering pathway.

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Rapid technological advancement, demographic shifts, and globalization are reshaping engineering work more quickly than ever. The current COVID-19 pandemic has also brought unprecedented socioeconomic, environmental, and political change. Engineers must navigate this change to succeed in their work and careers; yet, research suggests that neither engineering students nor professionals are sufficiently prepared in this area. This CAREER grant addresses this challenge by developing the means to define, understand, measure, and teach adaptability as a key meta-competency for engineers. Adaptability is the ability to respond positively to volatility, uncertainty, and ambiguity. Often espoused as an essential skill by engineering employers, it is generally not reified or taught within undergraduate engineering education. Current approaches to fostering adaptability in engineering emphasize experiential learning opportunities such as team-based projects, co-op/internships, and undergraduate research. However, these activities do not usually provide formal training in adaptability, and whether they nurture or merely test adaptability is unclear. Like other professional skills such as communication and ethics, adaptability must be explicitly taught and assessed to prepare students to solve today's complex and ill-structured problems. This five-year project uses a mixed-methods, research-to-practice design to systematically investigate and develop unified language and educational content related to adaptability within engineering. Specifically, this research addresses the following questions: (1) What adaptive mindsets and behaviors are important for professional engineering practice, (2) what factors influence engineers' ability to be adaptable, and (3) what strategies can enhance the adaptability of engineering students and early-career engineers? In our first phase of research, semi-structured critical incident interviews with twenty engineering managers are being conducted and thematically analyzed to develop a typology of the mindsets and behaviors necessary for adaptable engineering practice. This work is grounded in the U.S. semiconductor, medical device, and electronics industries, selected for their short product life cycles, evolving regulatory processes, and changing consumer demands that make adaptability paramount. We have developed an interview protocol that probes managers about specific times when an engineering supervisee needed to adapt to the job. Managers are prompted to describe the circumstances, engineer's reaction, resources the engineer used, and outcome for each incident. They are also asked how they define adaptability and how their organization promotes adaptability. A project liaison at each company is assisting the research team with identifying 3-5 engineering managers of different demographics and experience levels to interview. Interviews lasting approximately 60 minutes are being conducted virtually, audio recorded, and transcribed. The full paper will present initial findings from these interviews. This work will be used to inform interviews of early-career engineers to explore the catalysts and barriers they experience to being adaptable, develop survey instruments to measure adaptive mindsets and behaviors, and create online educational modules to enhance the adaptability of engineers. The most immediate impact of the proposed work will be an increased understanding of what constitutes adaptability in engineering practice and what strategies best cultivate its development. These outcomes have significant potential for U.S. productivity, innovation, and workforce development.

Brunhaver, S. R., & Sajadi, S. (2021, July), CAREER: Ready for Change: Fostering Adaptability along the Engineering Pathway Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36784

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