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Documenting Engineering Identity: Electrical and Computer Engineering Departmental Documents and Student Identity

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Electrical and Computer Division Technical Session 4

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

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Paper Authors


Rachel E. Friedensen Iowa State University

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Dr. Rachel Friedensen is currently a postdoctoral research associate at Iowa State University. She recently received her Ph.D. in education leadership and policy with a specialization in higher education from University of Massachusetts Amherst. She also holds a masters degree in history from Western Michigan University and a bachelors degree in history from Bryn Mawr College. Her research interests include: underrepresented populations in STEM; student engineering identity development; institutional diversity and equity policy; history and theory of higher education.

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Erin E. Doran Iowa State University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Erin Doran is an Assistant Professor of Higher Education at Iowa State University.

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Sarah Rodriguez Iowa State University Orcid 16x16

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Sarah Rodriguez, PhD, is an assistant professor of Higher Education at Iowa State University. Dr. Rodriguez’s research addresses issues of equity, access, and retention for Latina/o students in the higher education pipeline, with a focus on the intersections of gender and race/ethnicity for Latinas in STEM. She has experience coordinating large-scale interdisciplinary research projects focused on engineering and other STEM disciplines which have been sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Dr. Rodriguez has also worked with the project Engaging Latino Students for Transfer and College Completion a national initiative focused on helping institutions strengthen Latina/o student engagement, transfer, and college completion. She has also served as a New Mathways Project Mentorship Program Coach for the Charles A. Dana Center, supporting college implementation of multiple mathematics pathways, acceleration to complete college level math courses quickly, and intentional use of strategies. Dr. Rodriguez has presented at conferences at the national, regional, and local levels and authored journal articles, book chapters, policy briefs, and other publications on Latina/o student success.

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As concerns about the preparation of engineers grow, so has interest in the dimensions of engineering identity. By having a thorough understanding of engineering identity, departments will be better able to produce engineers who understand their role as a member of the profession. Generally, engineering identity literature has not focused on specific disciplinary identities, instead looking at engineering as a whole. Previous literature has utilized role identity theory (e.g., Gee, 2001) and identified key dimensions of engineering identity, including one’s performance/competence and interest in engineering courses and recognition as a current/future engineer (Godwin, 2016; Godwin et al., 2013; Godwin et al., 2016).

This paper deepens our understanding of electrical and computer engineering identities. As part of research activities associated with National Science Foundation grant looking at professional formation of socio-technically minded students, we analyzed texts and documents from an electrical and computer engineering department to examine the department’s professed priorities. Using document analysis, we answered this research question: How is a department’s commitment to undergraduate engineering identity development expressed in departmental documents?

Document analysis focuses on texts to describe some aspect of the social world (Bowen, 2009). This analysis was performed with two types of departmental documents: front-facing documents (e.g., websites, newsletters) and internal documents (e.g., ABET self-studies, program evaluations) from an electrical and computing engineering department at a public research university. Analysis employed a priori and emergent coding schemas to formulate themes related to identity, performance/capability, interest, and recognition present in departmental documents (Bowen, 2009; Godwin, 2016). Specifically, we skimmed documents to ascertain inclusion status; read and coded documents in depth; and identified broader themes across documents (Bowen, 2009).

One broad theme was a lack of attention to identity; another showed emphasis on technical skills/competencies. By interrogating absences, we found that there is little attention being paid to identity development or its components in these documents. In other words, these texts do not indicate that the department is invested in supporting students’ senses of interest, performance, and recognition as electrical and computer engineers. Rather, we found that these texts emphasize the acquisition of specific concepts, skills, and competencies. Overall, analysis indicated that the department does not cultivate holistic engineering student identities. The resultant implications are by no means irrelevant—a focus on identity over specific skills could increase retention, increase student satisfaction, and produce better future engineers.

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Friedensen, R. E., & Doran, E. E., & Rodriguez, S. (2018, June), Documenting Engineering Identity: Electrical and Computer Engineering Departmental Documents and Student Identity Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30343

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