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Engineering Students and Group Membership: Patterns of Variation in Leadership Confidence and Risk Orientation

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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

Literature and Research Perspectives on Engineering Leadership Development

Tagged Division

Engineering Leadership Development

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Paper Authors


James N Magarian Massachusetts Institute of Technology Orcid 16x16

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James Magarian is an instructor with the Gordon Engineering Leadership (GEL) Program and is a doctoral candidate in the Mechanical Engineering department at MIT. He joined MIT and GEL after nearly a decade in industry as a mechanical engineer and engineering manager in aerospace/defense. His research focuses on engineering workforce development and the college-careers interface.

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Alison Olechowski University of Toronto Orcid 16x16

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Alison Olechowski is an Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream, in the Department of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering and the Institute for Leadership Education in Engineering (ILead). She completed her PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) studying product development decision-making during complex industry projects. Dr. Olechowski completed her BSc (Engineering) at Queen’s University and her MS at MIT, both in Mechanical Engineering. Dr. Olechowski studies the processes and tools that teams of engineers use in industry as they design innovative new products.

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This paper examines variance in leadership confidence and risk orientation attributes across a sample of n=1,061 senior year mechanical engineering students drawn from nine U.S. engineering schools. These attributes theoretically relate to students’ development within engineering leadership educational programs and to students’ career choice behaviors. Data were collected as part of a larger forthcoming study that will analyze the attributes’ association with students’ demonstrated engineering job and task preferences. In this paper, we introduce our conceptualization and measurement methods for the leadership confidence and risk orientation variables following a review of the related literature. We hypothesize that these attributes vary, on average, in association with observable student participation choices, such as the choice to join a fraternity/sorority or to participate in varsity athletics; we also hypothesize that the attributes vary in association with socioeconomic background and gender. We then present results demonstrating statistically significant differences in these attributes, on average, depending on students’ association with one or more of such groups or demographics. Meanwhile, we find no statistically significant differences in average values of the leadership confidence or risk attributes across the universities participating in the study.

Our results suggest that pockets of higher and lower average leadership confidence or risk orientations can be expected to exist within a given university’s student body, as associated with certain group memberships and demographics. These results are important in light of engineering educators’ increased attention in recent years to the development of leadership capabilities in engineering students, since attributes such as these may relate to how students perform and progress in engineering leadership courses and to how they progress in their careers. For engineering leadership educational courses that are optional or elective in nature, educators may wish to assess the cross-sectional representativeness of their course cohorts to be aware of whether they are over- or under- sampling from certain student groups. Additionally, our data suggests implications for assessing cohort composition within such courses, for methods employed in courses’ learning outcomes assessment, and for course or program degree-credit and recruitment approaches.

Magarian, J. N., & Olechowski, A. (2018, June), Engineering Students and Group Membership: Patterns of Variation in Leadership Confidence and Risk Orientation Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30417

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