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Exploring Connections between Engineering Projects, Student Characteristics, and the Ways Engineering Students Experience Innovation

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Entrepreneurship and Innovation: The Student Experience

Tagged Division

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation

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Paper Authors


Nicholas D. Fila Purdue University, West Lafayette (College of Engineering)

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Nicholas D. Fila is a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. He earned a B.S. in Electrical Engineering and a M.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His current research interests include innovation, empathy, and engineering design.

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Senay Purzer Purdue University, West Lafayette (College of Engineering) Orcid 16x16

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Ṣenay Purzer is an Associate Professor in the School of Engineering Education. She is the recipient of a 2012 NSF CAREER award, which examines how engineering students approach innovation. She serves on the editorial boards of Science Education and the Journal of Pre-College Engineering Education (JPEER). She received a B.S.E with distinction in Engineering in 2009 and a B.S. degree in Physics Education in 1999. Her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees are in Science Education from Arizona State University earned in 2002 and 2008, respectively.

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Innovation is a key competency in engineering. Researchers and educators have long explored the processes, attributes, and environments of innovators with an aim to support engineering students in developing the competencies necessary to innovate. Yet, innovation is a complex phenomenon with many potential paths. In a recent phenomenographic study of engineering students, we found eight distinct ways of experiencing innovation. While these different ways of experiencing innovation were not necessarily better or worse, they could be compared in terms of their comprehensiveness, especially with respect to the innovation process and the issues (e.g., technical, user, or business) that drove innovation. In this study, we performed a two-phase qualitative analysis to understand how individual characteristics of the engineering students and contextual characteristics of the engineering projects in which they encountered innovation intersected to influence them to experience innovation in one of the eight categories described in the earlier study. In the first phase, we used content analysis to catalog distinct individual and project characteristics and explore similarities among participants in each of the eight categories. In the second phase, we used thematic analysis to describe, at a more general level, how individual participants came to experience innovation in more comprehensive ways. Content analysis showed that individuals may be drawn to specific categories due to nuanced connections between individual and project characteristics, while thematic analysis demonstrated three general pathways to more comprehensive categories, including (1) comprehensiveness of the innovation project experience, (2) connections between project goals and an individuals’ interests and values, and (3) acute or persistent tensions between current perspectives and innovation experiences. We discuss these results in depth and describe implications for teaching and learning engineering innovation.

Fila, N. D., & Purzer, S. (2017, June), Exploring Connections between Engineering Projects, Student Characteristics, and the Ways Engineering Students Experience Innovation Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28326

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