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Engineers’ Imaginaries of 'The Public': Dominant Themes from Interviews with Engineering Students, Faculty, and Professionals

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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

Imagining Others, Defining Self Through Consideration of Ethical and Social Implications

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

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Paper Authors


Nathan E. Canney CYS Structural Engineers Inc.

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Dr. Canney's research focuses on engineering education, specifically the development of social responsibility in engineering students. Other areas of interest include ethics, service learning, and sustainability education. Dr. Canney received bachelors degrees in Civil Engineering and Mathematics from Seattle University, a masters in Civil Engineering from Stanford University with an emphasis on structural engineering, and a PhD in Civil Engineering from the University of Colorado Boulder.

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This paper is the second of a three-part study on engineers’ conceptions of “the public” through the theoretical lens of “social imaginaries.” It focuses on dominant themes from semi-structured interviews with engineers about their views of “the public,” the role of engineers in society, and characterizations of the “ideal” versus “real” relationship between engineers and “the public.”

Interviews were conducted with 43 engineers: 13 first-year and 11 senior undergraduate students, ten engineering faculty, and nine professional engineers with at least five years of work experience. Interview participants represented primarily civil, mechanical, and electrical engineering. All students and faculty were affiliated with two higher education institutions and the majority (6/9) of the engineering professionals were alumni of these same institutions. Women (19/43), underrepresented minorities (URMs) (12/43), and students and faculty engaged in Learning Through Service (LTS) (9/43) were intentionally oversampled, as compared to the general engineering population, to capture diverse and possibly non-dominant views within the engineering community.

Interviews were recorded, transcribed, and coded by two reviewers. Two-hundred-and-seventy-nine emerging codes were identified using qualitative data analysis. They were broadly organized in dominant themes that included a) interviewees’ characterizations of “the public,” b) experiences that shaped interviewees’ views of “the public,” c) interviewees’ understandings about their role in society, d) interviewees’ understandings about the role of “the public” in engineering decision making, and e) interviewees’ perceptions of risks and benefits associated with interacting with “the public.”

Canney, N. E. (2018, June), Engineers’ Imaginaries of 'The Public': Dominant Themes from Interviews with Engineering Students, Faculty, and Professionals Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30421

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