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Engineering As Lifestyle And A Meritocracy Of Difficulty: Two Pervasive Beliefs Among Engineering Students And Their Possible Effects

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Conference

2007 Annual Conference & Exposition

Location

Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007

ISSN

2153-5965

Conference Session

Knowing our Students, Part 1

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count

17

Page Numbers

12.618.1 - 12.618.17

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/2791

Download Count

110

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Paper Authors

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Reed Stevens University of Washington

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Reed Stevens is an Associate Professor in the College of Education at the University of Washington. He specializes in ethnographic and comparative approaches to studying how people learn in STEM related fields. His research spans studies of informal and formal learning environments and is focussed on the link between the two. He is currently co-leading two NSF Centers working on issues related to how people learn, the LIFE Center and CAEE.

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Daniel Amos University of Washington

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Daniel Amos was one of the first ethnographers from the United States to do ethnographic research in the People’s Republic of China. He has taught at five Chinese universities, and directed the Chinese Studies program at Clark Atlanta University. His graduate degrees are from UCLA (Anthropology, 1983) and the University of Chicago (Social Science-Psychology, 1974). He is currently an Acting Instructor in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Washington.

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Andrew Jocuns University of Washington

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Andrew Jocuns holds a PhD in Linguistics from Georgetown University. His research interests in include: classroom discourse and interaction; narrative analysis; mediated discourse; and pragmatics. He is currently a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Educational Psychology at the University of Washington.

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Lari Garrison University of Washington

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Lari Garrison is a Ph.D. candidate in Cognitive Studies in Education at the University of Washington. Currently, she works as a Research Assistant for CAEE (Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education). She received a B.A. and a M.Ed. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and taught high school mathematics for ten years before beginning work on her Ph.D. at UW.

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Abstract
NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Engineering as Lifestyle and a Meritocracy of Difficulty: Two pervasive beliefs among engineering students and their possible effects In this paper we discuss a series of narratives collected from ethnographic interviews with engineering students concerning questions about what they wish to be an engineer. Our paper reports on two related beliefs that we have found among engineering undergraduates, most commonly in their first two years of four-year programs. These are: engineering as a lifestyle and a meritocracy of difficulty. Engineering as a lifestyle refers to the anticipated comfortable life that students expect from their careers as engineers. In terms of a meritocracy of difficulty we are referring to how students’ justify their anticipated comfortable futures based on the fact that they perceive their school work to be much more difficult than that of students in other departments. The reason that the difficulties of their engineering studies will merit them the comfortable material existence that comes from earning an engineering degree. This paper’s analysis is based on data from a comparative, four-year longitudinal study of undergraduate students’ pathways through engineering degree programs at four engineering schools across the United States. Our analysis of engineering as a lifestyle focuses upon how little first and second year students know about the actual practices of engineers. In a similar vain, a meritocracy of difficulty also persists due to this lack of understanding, as such we argue that students construct reasons for their expected future prosperity that if they work harder now, they deserve more later.

Introduction

It seems a universal feature of human experience to tell stories about one’s place and direction in the world. Research on storytelling has shown that this is as true of individuals as it is of nation states.1 Given this range, we can assume that members of cultural groups of sizes between individuals and nations will share common, if never identical, narratives. In this paper, we report on a collection of common narratives that come from a distinctive student culture, that of undergraduate engineering education in America.

Our paper reports on two related beliefs that we have found among engineering undergraduates, most commonly in their first two years of four-year programs. This paper’s analysis is based on data from a comparative, four-year longitudinal study of undergraduate students’ pathways through engineering degree programs at four engineering schools across the United States. The transcript data we analyze for this paper is derived from ethnographic interviews collected with students in each of the four programs over their first three years.

The first belief we call the engineering as lifestyle perspective. We find that when students give reasons for why they want to be an engineer, the most pervasive reason is to have a comfortable material existence. Students express interest in making a good salary, having the security of a professional position, and even the expectation of travel. Much less frequently, students speak for their goals of being an engineer in terms of the craft of engineering or the actual impact of engineering work on society. Our interpretation of the engineering as lifestyle perspective is that it is rooted in how little first and second year students understand about the actual practices of

Stevens, R., & Amos, D., & Jocuns, A., & Garrison, L. (2007, June), Engineering As Lifestyle And A Meritocracy Of Difficulty: Two Pervasive Beliefs Among Engineering Students And Their Possible Effects Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. https://peer.asee.org/2791

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