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Engineering as a Challenging Vocation: How Students Align Personal Values to the Dominant Engineering Discourse

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Identity, Culture, and Socialization

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

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Paper Authors


Joel Alejandro Mejia University of San Diego Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Joel Alejandro (Alex) Mejia is an assistant professor in the Department of Integrated Engineering at the University of San Diego. His research has contributed to the integration of critical theoretical frameworks and Chicano Cultural Studies to investigate and analyze existing deficit models in engineering education. Dr. Mejia’s work also examines how asset-based models impact the validation and recognition of students and communities of color as holders and creators of knowledge. His current work seeks to analyze and describe the tensions, contradictions, and cultural collisions many Latinx students experience in engineering through testimonios. He is particularly interested in approaches that contribute to a more expansive understanding of engineering in sociocultural contexts, the impact of critical consciousness in engineering practice, and development and implementation of culturally responsive pedagogies in engineering education.

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Diana Chen University of San Diego Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Diana A. Chen is an Assistant Professor of Integrated Engineering at the University of San Diego. She joined the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering in 2016. Her research interests are in areas of sustainable design, including biomimicry and adaptability in structural, city, and regional applications. In addition, her pedagogy focuses on contextualizing engineering curricula, making engineering more inclusive, and integrating issues of social justice into engineering. She earned her MS and PhD in Civil Engineering from Clemson University, and her BS in Engineering from Harvey Mudd College.

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Mark A. Chapman University of San Diego Orcid 16x16

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Mark Chapman is an assistant professor at the University of San Diego in the Department of Integrated Engineering. His interests lie in the fields of skeletal muscle mechanics, muscle disease, exercise physiology, international education and engineering education. He earned his MS and PhD in bioengineering from the University of California, San Diego and a B.S. in biomedical engineering from the University of Minnesota.

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The concept of vocation is sometimes ignored by engineering students given that its connotation is traditionally related to religious endeavors. However, examining vocation can provide a frame of reference for individuals that seek to live their authentic selves while engaging in a particular trade or profession, including those outside of religious settings. Vocational decisions involve not only thinking about a career, but also about the community, discourses, values, and relationships that encompass the quest for meaning and purpose in life. Thus, the integration of vocational education in engineering curricula can be very transformative for students as it encourages them to reflect on, and even reconcile, their values and their engineering identity. Research indicates that certain aspects of engineering education curricula, such as the depoliticization of engineering and the myth of meritocracy (Cech 2013), can create conflicting interpretations of what it means to be an engineer and even promote the culture of disengagement (Cech, 2014).

In an effort to understand how students reflect on and make sense of the complexities of living their authentic selves while embodying an engineering identity, we implemented an activity where we asked undergraduate students, typically in their second or third semester, to sort "values cards" and reflect on how those selected values aligned with how they imagined themselves as engineers. Some of the "values cards" included descriptors such as "authority", "family", "wealth", "mastery" and "contribution" among others. The students were provided with 83 values and asked to sort these cards into three different piles: very important to me, somewhat important to me, and not important to me. After the first sorting round, the students were asked to eliminate the "not important to me" pile and sort the remaining cards into 5 new piles based on value similarities. Finally, the students were required to select one value from each of those 5 piles that represented their core values. After the activity, the students completed a handout where they wrote their selected values and provided context to those values by writing actionable practices that described how they enacted those values as they related to their life and engineering.

This paper presents the values that engineering students may deem important to their vocations. In addition, we sought to describe how the values system of engineering students may be reflective of the Discourses of engineering – ways of recognizing and being recognized as a member of a group by enacting distinctive ways of valuing, feeling, or believing among others. We analyzed students’ responses using critical discourse analysis to investigate how language, as a form of social practice, is used among engineering students to conceptualize purpose. We argue that language in text used by students is descriptive of how they create meaning of different situations, and that those situations are reflective of the larger dominant discourse created by sociocultural practices in engineering. Preliminary results indicate that engineering Discourses may influence the conceptualizations of status, power, and solidarity in relationship to their values and vocations.

Mejia, J. A., & Chen, D., & Chapman, M. A. (2020, June), Engineering as a Challenging Vocation: How Students Align Personal Values to the Dominant Engineering Discourse Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34548

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