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Enhancing Student Perceptions of Engineering Disciplines through Showcasing of Career Paths

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

First-Year Programs: Deciding on a Major

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Matthew B. James P.E. Virginia Tech

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Matthew James is an Assistant Professor of Practice in Engineering Education at Virginia Tech, and is a registered Professional Engineer in the State of Virginia. He holds bachelors and masters degrees from Virginia Tech in Civil Engineering.

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Kacie Hodges P.E.

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Kacie Hodges, PE works as a Civil Engineer in Blacksburg, Virginia. She holds BS and Master's degrees in Civil Engineering from Virginia Tech. Kacie is a licensed Professional Engineer in the State of Virginia and has worked in both the private and public sectors. Prior to her current engineering position, she was on the faculty at Virginia Tech in the Department of Engineering Education for over 8 years teaching Foundations of Engineering courses to first year engineering students.

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Jenny L. Lo Virginia Tech

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Jenny Lo is a Senior Instructor in the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. She has taught multiple first-year engineering courses.

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This complete evidence-based practice paper describes an instructional technique used in a general first-year engineering course to enhance students’ perceptions of engineering disciplines by highlighting current jobs and careers of people who studied across a variety of engineering-related fields throughout the semester. As part of this introductory course at a large land-grant university in the southeast United States, students are expected to investigate multiple engineering disciplines offered at the institution, which will help them choose a major of study as they move into their second year. At the study institution, there are over a dozen engineering majors students can choose from, and within those, many more sub-disciplines. This presents a challenge for instructors because, while important, selection of a discipline is only one of six learning outcomes for the course. Furthermore, many first-year students are not aware of the many different paths they can take as an engineer, and often are only familiar with the more popular disciplines.

One way instructors have sought to expose students to the wide variety of careers that people with engineering degrees go on to pursue is through presentation of an “Engineering Job of the Day” during most class sessions throughout the semester. The jobs presented are “real world” examples, mostly sought out through personal connections by several instructors in the course. Basic information is presented including the degrees each person has, where they work, job title, a typical day at work, and what they deem as important skills for their current position. Additionally, some featured jobs also include advice for first-year students; the people discussed in class are all alumni from the same institution where the information is being presented. In some cases, alumni were no longer in traditional engineering careers, but were able to describe how their engineering background helped them in their current jobs. The authors leveraged personal connections and networking through engineering advisors to obtain profiles.

In Spring 2018, the “Engineering Job of the Day” was delivered in twelve sections of approximately 30 students each. Classes met twice a week, with job profiles used starting in week 2 of classes so that by the end of the semester 24 profiles were introduced to students. At least one profile was presented per major offered at this institution. An online survey was administered at the end of the semester in Spring 2018 to 200+ enrolled students to assess students’ perceptions of the engineering jobs presented and what impact they felt it had on them. It is notable that students taking the course in this semester are considered “off-semester,” in that most of these students were enrolled in non-engineering majors at the study institution and seeking to transfer into engineering majors. The survey collected students’ responses with respect to their perception of engineering as a whole, whether the class activity had an impact on their decision pursue a discipline, if it was an effective use of class time to meet course learning outcomes, and suggestions for future implementations of the activity, among other questions. The survey involved a series of Likert scale and free response questions. Self-reported demographic information was also collected as part of the survey.

The authors present both quantitative and qualitative data from the survey. The paper discusses frequency and percent distributions of quantitative data. Qualitative data was coded using an open-coding framework. Preliminary results from this study will be discussed. The results of this analysis show that students found that practice of including engineering jobs in the way described was useful with respect to the different paths they can pursue with a degree in engineering based on this activity. International students provided more positive responses than non-international students. From the faculty perspective, some perceived benefits of this classroom activity include providing students with helpful real-world information without adding to the student’s workload.

James, M. B., & Hodges, K., & Lo, J. L. (2019, June), Enhancing Student Perceptions of Engineering Disciplines through Showcasing of Career Paths Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32750

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2019 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015