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Charting the Landscape of Engineering Leadership Education in North American Universities

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

Assessment of Engineering Leadership Skills

Tagged Division

Engineering Leadership Development Division

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Paper Authors


Mike Klassen Institute for Leadership Education in Engineering, University of Toronto

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Mike Klassen is a Leadership Programming Consultant with the Institute for Leadership Education in Engineering (ILead) at the University of Toronto where he develops leadership programs and industry partnerships for engineers. His research interests include engineering leadership, organizational culture, and higher education. Mike has a Graduate Diploma in Social Innovation from the University of Waterloo and a BASc in Engineering Science from the University of Toronto.

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Doug Reeve University of Toronto

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Dr. Reeve is the founding Director of the Institute for Leadership Education in Engineering (ILead) established in 2010. Development of personal capability has been central to his work with engineering students for twenty-five years. In 2002 he established Leaders of Tomorrow, a student leadership development program that led to the establishment of ILead. He is a Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry.

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Cindy Rottmann University of Toronto

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Cindy Rottmann is a Research Associate at the Institute for Leadership Education in Engineering (ILead) at the University of Toronto. Her research interests include engineering leadership, engineering ethics education, critical theory, teacher leadership and social justice teacher unionism.

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Robin Sacks University of Toronto

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Dr. Sacks is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering at the University of Toronto teaching leadership and positive psychology at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. Robin also serves as the Director of Research for the Engineering Leadership Project at the Institute for Leadership Education in Engineering which aims to identify how engineers lead in the workplace.

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Annie Elisabeth Simpson Institute for Leadership Education in Engineering, University of Toronto

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Annie is the Assistant Director of the Institute for Leadership Education in Engineering at the University of Toronto. She has been teaching since 2003. Her doctoral work focussed on young women and leadership development. She has her Masters degree in Adult Education and Counselling Psychology. Annie teaches courses, designs experiential curriculum, and contributes to the strategic direction of the Institute.

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Amy Huynh Institute for Leadership Education in Engineering, University of Totonto

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Amy is involved with ensuring the smooth communication, deployment and administration of ILead programs, events, and academic courses. She is responsible for the Institute’s web content strategy, which includes maintaining the Institute’s website, designing and writing email newsletters, and managing social media channels. Amy holds a B.A. Honours in Anthropology and Communications from York University, an Ontario College Graduate Certificate in Corporate Communications from Seneca College, and has a professional background in non-profit communications and administration.

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Engineering leadership education is growing rapidly in North American universities. However, there are significant differences in organizational identity, strategy and focus. In order for program leaders to effectively learn from each other, there is a need to frame the key distinctions between initiatives.

Most engineering leadership publications to date have described individual programs. In 2009 there was a snapshot of the whole field internationally [1] but things have changed substantially since then. A recent paper has looked at differences in program goals and targeted competencies [2], but this only explains part of how programs function. This paper seeks to fill a gap by looking at a wider range of organizational factors that influence and define engineering leadership initiatives. Relevance to Engineering Leadership:

This paper proposes core organizational dimensions with which university-based engineering leadership initiatives can be characterized. Methodology:

The findings in this paper came from 14 semi-structured interviews with senior leaders of North American engineering leadership initiatives (centers, institutes or programs). Interviewees were chosen through a purposive sample, based on membership in the Community of Practice for Leadership Education of the Twenty-first Century Engineer (COMPLETE).

Interviews were transcribed verbatim, and a qualitative data structure was developed to capture similar information for each university. From this a set of seven dimensions emerged to conceptually distinguish the initiatives.


The seven dimensions are described below, along with a view of the spectrum and range of programmatic approaches.

1. End goal: from economic impact (engineers leading technical organizations to create growth) to social impact (engineers working towards social change). Wide spectrum of goals observed. 2. Scale of leadership: from individual to organizational. Mostly individual scale. 3. Leadership emphasis: from leadership as a process to leadership as a position. More weight towards process, but many blended approaches found. 4. Content focus: from theory (deeper conceptual understanding) to practice (developing leadership skills and practices). Mostly practice. 5. Participant size/selection: from inclusive (all engineering students targeted/included) to exclusive (small, application-based programs). Mostly exclusive. 6. Institutional recognition of programs: from core curriculum (required courses for academic credit) to elective courses and co-curricular offerings (over and above ‘core’ coursework). Mostly elective/co-curricular. 7. Level of integration: from integrated (leadership intertwined with engineering science/design) to separate (leadership taught separately in different classes). Mostly separate. Recommendations and Implications:

Looking at these dimensions together, we can segment the growing numbers of engineering leadership programs into sub-groups. More detailed analysis may reveal patterns of growth (and evolution) trajectories that newer programs can learn from. The framework can guide engineering professors to help find others who have integrated leadership into individual technical courses, while administrators can learn about the full range of strategic options when it comes to investing in leadership education.

Leaders of existing leadership initiatives can reflect on their own organizations and identify which peers they want to learn from. Curriculum designers and accreditation bodies can look at how leadership is currently being integrated to reflect on how their current mindset is pulling leadership into the curriculum (or pushing it out).


1. Graham, R, Engineering leadership education: a snapshot review of international good practice. White paper sponsored by the Bernard M. Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership Program, 2010. 2. Paul, R., & Cowe Falls, L. G. Engineering Leadership Education: A Review of Best Practices Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Seattle, Washington, 2015.

Klassen, M., & Reeve, D., & Rottmann, C., & Sacks, R., & Simpson, A. E., & Huynh, A. (2016, June), Charting the Landscape of Engineering Leadership Education in North American Universities Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26486

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: © 2016 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