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Defining Global Competence for Engineering Students

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Preparing Engineering Students for the Global Workplace, Competency, and a Successful Career

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Page Numbers

22.420.1 - 22.420.17



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Paper Authors


Stacy S. Klein-Gardner Vanderbilt University

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Stacy Klein-Gardner is the Director of STEM Outreach for Peabody College and the School of Engineering at Vanderbilt University. She is also an associate professor of the practice of biomedical engineering, teaching & learning, and radiological sciences.

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Alanna Walker Clemson University

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Defining Global Competence for Engineering Students In order for engineering graduates to be competitive in today's global economy, they mustpossess a certain amount of global competence. Delivering this type of education can be difficult,however, since the term "global competence" is not universally defined. In this study, we collected theopinions of prominent members of engineering industry and academia in order to present a cleardefinition of what it means for engineering graduates to be globally competent. The data collection wasconducted via an online survey, which asked the participants to rank the importance of thirteen"dimensions" of global competence on a Likert scale of one to five. Our survey was adapted from asurvey outlined in Parkinson et al's 2009 paper entitled "Developing Global Competence in Engineers:What Does It Mean? What Is Most Important?". We collected more demographic data, which assisted usin our analysis. Our survey indicated that the top five most important dimensions of global competenceare: 1) the ability to communicate across cultures, 2) the ability to appreciate other cultures, 3) aproficiency working in or directing a team of ethnic and cultural diversity, 4) the ability to effectivelydeal with ethical issues arising from cultural or national differences, 5) possessing understanding ofcultural differences relating to product design, manufacture, and use, and 5) possessing understandimplications of cultural differences of how engineering tasks might be approached. Separating the datainto results from members of academia and industry made evident apparent differences of opinion. Thelargest discrepancies came from the dimensions regarding speaking foreign languages, practicingengineering in a global context, and viewing oneself as a citizen of the world. We combined the datafrom the Parkinson et al study to further analyze the difference in opinion of members of academia andindustry. Those results were similar to our survey's data with a few exceptions: on the academia side,the dimension "practice engineering in a global context" was rated much more important in thecombined results than in our results alone; and on the industry side, the "working in culturally diverseteams" and "dealing with ethical issues arising from cultural differences" were both rated significantlyhigher in the combined results as compared to our results alone. Also, we looked for relationshipsbetween the ratings and the other demographic data that we collected. We found that the amount oftime spent living outside the United States correlated with the rating of the dimension of practicingengineering in a global context and the time since the participant's last international collaborationcorrelated with the rating of speaking a foreign language at a conversational level. It is our hope thatthis data will lead to a well-supported definition for what it means to be a globally competent engineer.A definition like this will help engineering universities focus the global education of their students toproduce more competitive graduates for the international job market.

Klein-Gardner, S. S., & Walker, A. (2011, June), Defining Global Competence for Engineering Students Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17701

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