Asee peer logo

Disciplinary Differences in Engineering Students' Aspirations and Self-Perceptions

Download Paper |


2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Retention and Persistence in Engineering

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.438.1 - 23.438.11



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

Geoff Potvin Clemson University

author page

Zahra Hazari Florida International University

author page

Leidy Klotz Clemson University

author page

Allison Godwin Clemson University Orcid 16x16

author page

Robynne M. Lock Department of Engineering and Science Education, Clemson University

author page

Jennifer Dawn Cribbs Western Kentucky University

author page

Nicole Barclay Clemson University

Download Paper |


Disciplinary Differences in Engineering Students' Aspirations and Self-PerceptionsIn discussions of the recruitment and retention of the next generation of engineers, students aresometimes treated as a homogeneous group with respect to the necessary preparation for collegeas well as their career values and aspirations despite engineering educators' knowledge of thediversity of career opportunities and technical specialties across engineering disciplines.Moreover, initiates just starting their post-secondary education in engineering may not perceivedisciplines as experts do: they may identify and find affinity for features of an engineeringspecialty that may be illusory or somewhat different than those perceived by practitioners.This paper begins a coherent discussion of student perceptions of engineering disciplines byconducting a comparative analysis of students at the start of their engineering studies. The dataused in this analysis is drawn from a nationally-representative survey, conducted in 2011, ofstudents enrolled at 50 colleges and universities in the U.S. In total, 6772 students returned theproject's survey which included questions on students' backgrounds, high school experiences, aswell as their career plans, personal values, and future aspirations.By identifying the students in this data who were “very likely” or “extremely likely” to major ineight different disciplines (bio-engineering, chemical , engineering, electrical/computer ,environmental , industrial/systems, materials, and mechanical engineering), we show howstudent goals, values and self-perceptions differ. Regression analysis is used to study how thelikelihood of entering one of these eight disciplines is associated to specific outcomes; namely,career outcome expectations, students' self-beliefs around identities in science generally, physics,and mathematics (each having sub-components of interest, recognition, andperformance/competence beliefs) as well as a construct measuring global agency (beliefs in theability of science & engineering to change the world in a global sense) and personal agency(beliefs in science & engineering to change one's life).The results indicate that students intending to major in engineering show substantial inter-discipline distinctions (all effects at the 1% level). For example, bio-engineers are notable intheir particularly high science identities and high agency measures. Chemical engineers, bycontrast, have significantly higher science, math, and physics identities than average while beingdistinct from other engineers in their lowered career expectations for personal/family time.Environmental engineers are notable in their significantly lower than average physics and mathidentities and lower desires to “apply math and science” in their careers. Electrical/computerengineers show higher inclinations to “develop new knowledge and skills” and “invent/designthings”. The complete results for all eight majors under study will be reported in the full paper.The utility of this work is that it should help to guide more effective recruiting of students intoengineering disciplines and allow for a broadening of recruitment efforts to students who wouldnormally be overlooked for engineering careers. These results contribute to the discussion ofwhy students may choose to leave engineering studies or switch between disciplines. This workshould also inform the ways in which engineering educators should reform their teachingpractices to be more in line with students' particular interests and goals.

Potvin, G., & Hazari, Z., & Klotz, L., & Godwin, A., & Lock, R. M., & Cribbs, J. D., & Barclay, N. (2013, June), Disciplinary Differences in Engineering Students' Aspirations and Self-Perceptions Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19452

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: © 2013 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