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Cross-sectional Survey Study of Undergraduate Engineering Identity

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Engineering Cultures and Identity

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Tagged Topics

Diversity and ASEE Diversity Committee

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Paper Authors


Alexis Prybutok The University of Texas, Austin Orcid 16x16

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Alexis Prybutok earned a B.S. in both chemical engineering and biochemistry from The University of Texas at Austin in May of 2015. She has been working with Dr. Maura Borrego's group to conduct research in engineering education primarily on the subject of engineering identity.

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Anita D. Patrick University of Texas, Austin

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Anita Patrick is a STEM Education doctoral student and Graduate Research Assistant in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and College of Liberal Arts at UT Austin's Population Research Center. She received her BS in Bioengineering from Clemson University where she tutored undergraduate mathematics and science courses, and mentored undergraduate engineering majors. Prior to coming to UT, she independently tutored K12 and undergraduate mathematics and science. Her research interests include engineering education, identity and equity. Address: Engineering Training Center II (ETC) 204 East Dean Keeton Street Austin, TX 78712 Email:

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Maura J. Borrego University of Texas, Austin

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Maura Borrego is Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Curriculum & Instruction at the University of Texas at Austin. She previously served as a Program Director at the National Science Foundation and an associate dean and director of interdisciplinary graduate programs. Her research awards include U.S. Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), a National Science Foundation CAREER award, and two outstanding publication awards from the American Educational Research Association for her journal articles. Dr. Borrego is Deputy Editor for Journal of Engineering Education and serves on the board of the American Society for Engineering Education as Chair of Professional Interest Council IV. All of Dr. Borrego’s degrees are in Materials Science and Engineering. Her M.S. and Ph.D. are from Stanford University, and her B.S. is from University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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Carolyn Conner Seepersad University of Texas, Austin


Mary Jo Kirisits University of Texas, Austin

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Mary Jo Kirisits received her M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Environmental Engineering in Civil Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. After completing a postdoctoral fellowship at Northwestern University, she joined the faculty of the University of Texas at Austin, where she currently is an Associate Professor in Environmental and Water Resources Engineering and the William H. Hagerty Fellow in Engineering .

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Identity is an increasingly popular lens for studying recruitment and retention in engineering. Most of the research conducted on modeling student development of engineering identity and related contributing factors has examined high school students and college freshmen. However, many engineering students drop out in the first two years, as they continue to shape or abandon their engineering identities throughout the course of their college careers. This paper explores engineering identity differences between lower and upper division undergraduate engineering students in mechanical and civil engineering at a large public institution (n=563). In this preliminary analysis, student responses were classified based on the designation of the course in which they were completed: lower division courses typically include freshmen and sophomores early in their engineering curricula, while upper division courses typically include juniors and seniors and require lower division courses as pre-requisites. This designation is established by the institution to distinguish gateway courses from major sequence coursework, since students are admitted directly to their specific engineering majors as first-year students. The survey borrowed previously validated scales for physics, math and science identity to construct a survey that measures engineering identity directly. This survey included scales to measure both math and physics identity, multi-item scales thought to construct engineering identity (including direct measures), and background demographic information on the participants. During analysis, t-tests were used to compare differences in survey responses between the upper and lower division students, as well as between the mechanical and civil engineering students. Exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis resulted in 23 factors. The t-tests suggest that upper division students exhibited a higher physics recognition by others while lower division students exhibited a higher math interest, personal agency related to authority, and global agency related to caring about others. However, the upper and lower division students did not exhibit significantly different responses to the engineering identity questions, and future work should separate data by student’s year to further differentiate identity at each year. As engineering undergraduate identity research continues, it will be important to understand how engineering identity develops over time and in students who persist to complete an engineering bachelor’s degree. Examining the factors that contribute to successful identity development can be used to increase engineering retention rates by developing solutions that provide freshmen and sophomores opportunities to identify themselves as engineers at an earlier stage.

Prybutok, A., & Patrick, A. D., & Borrego, M. J., & Seepersad, C. C., & Kirisits, M. J. (2016, June), Cross-sectional Survey Study of Undergraduate Engineering Identity Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26610

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