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Examining Pathways into Graduate School through Stewardship Theory

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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

Graduate Education Expectations, Preparation, and Pathways

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Kanembe Shanachilubwa Pennsylvania State University Orcid 16x16

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First-year graduate student at Pennsylvania State University in the mechanical engineering department. Previously a member of the Beyond Professional Identity research group based in Harding University based in Searcy, Arkansas. Current research interests include graduate school attrition and Stewardship Theory as applied to higher education.

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Catherine G.P. Berdanier Pennsylvania State University Orcid 16x16

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Catherine G.P. Berdanier is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Pennsylvania State University. She earned her B.S. in Chemistry from The University of South Dakota, her M.S. in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering and Ph.D. in Engineering Education from Purdue University. Her research interests include graduate-level engineering education, including inter- and multidisciplinary graduate education, online engineering cognition and learning, and engineering communication.

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The purpose of this research paper is to understand the trajectories of early-career graduate students and senior-level undergraduate students as they consider graduate school. To this end, we qualitatively examined a corpus of N=50 personal statements, taken from winners of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program in one award cycle, to understand the trajectories that researchers take going into graduate school. Current graduate engineering enrollment numbers are declining with engineering doctoral attrition rates estimated to be about 24% and 36% for males and females, respectively. Students from traditionally underrepresented minority groups record doctoral attrition rates higher than 50%. This study employs the lens of Stewardship Theory, a theory commonly used to characterize the practices and activities of experts and PhD holders in generating, transforming, and conserving knowledge. Applied to our study, Stewardship Theory illuminates how particular undergraduate experiences, such as research experiences, teaching assistantships, tutoring, or outreach experiences, form the beginnings of an academic identity as a “steward of the discipline,” and prepare students for graduate school. Our findings characterize the experiences that undergraduates and early-career graduate students have through this and use qualitative data to show how these experiences prepared students to envision their role as graduate students. As a result of these findings, the engineering education research and practice communities can better understand how students conceptualize graduate school, their career goals, and research-intensive careers to inform how these experiences are conducted. Our findings also hold implications for scholars studying the formation of the future professoriate, as the academic “pipeline” begins with students like the ones from which we collected data in this study.

Shanachilubwa, K., & Berdanier, C. G. (2020, June), Examining Pathways into Graduate School through Stewardship Theory Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34611

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