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Exploring Entrepreneurial Characteristics and Experiences of Engineering Alumni

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation Division Opening General Session 2

Tagged Division

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.580.1 - 24.580.15



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Paper Authors


Janna Rodriguez Stanford University

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Janna Rodriguez is a second year Masters student in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University. Her research focus on exploring how engineering students, both undergraduates and graduates, can be prepared to become entrepreneurs and innovators in the corporate sector.

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Helen L. Chen Stanford University

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Sheri Sheppard Stanford University


Qu Jin Stanford University

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Qu Jin is a postdoctoral scholar in the Designing Education Lab at Stanford University. She earned her Ph.D. degree in Engineering Education from Purdue University in 2013, M.S. degree in Biomedical Engineering from Purdue University in 2009, and B.S. degree in Material Science and Engineering from Tsinghua University in China in 2007. Her research interests focus on educational studies that can help improve teaching, learning, and educational policy decision makings using both quantitative and qualitative research methods. Her current research project in National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation (Epicenter) focuses on measuring engineering students’ entrepreneurial interests and related individual characteristics. Her Ph.D. dissertation involved using statistical modeling methods to explain and predict engineering students’ success outcomes, such as retention, academic performance, and graduation.

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Samantha Ruth Brunhaver Stanford University

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Samantha Brunhaver is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University. Her dissertation research focuses on understanding the factors related to recent engineering graduates' decisions to work in engineering fields. Samantha received her B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Northeastern University and her M.S. in Mechanical Engineering with an emphasis on Design for Manufacturing from Stanford University.

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Exploring Entrepreneurial Characteristics and Experiences of Engineering AlumniIn recent years one of the goals of the National Science Foundation (NSF) is to encourage newgenerations of engineering students to become more entrepreneurial-minded and self-employedin the engineering field (Byers, Seelig, Sheppard, Weilerstein, 2013). Engineering schools in theUnited States have specific curricula that students must fulfill in order to graduate. Today, someof these curricula incorporate a component of entrepreneurial education. As part of this effort, asurvey of current engineering alumni was used to examine and determine which engineeringgraduates have become entrepreneurs or have an interest and intention towards entrepreneurship.This led to an exploration of the demographic characteristics, pre- and post -graduation learningexperiences, career outcome expectations, and personal interests of these alumni in order tobetter understand how they differed from their classmates.The research questions guiding this study are: (1) what levels of entrepreneurial activity, interestand intention do engineering alumni have (for example, how many plan to start or have started acompany)? (2) are there differences between these entrepreneurial alumni and non-entrepreneurial alumni with respect to career motivation, undergraduate learning experiences anddemographic characteristics? and (3) what are the strongest predictors for entrepreneurial activity,interest and intent?The participants in this study graduated with an undergraduate engineering degree in 2007. Fouryears after graduation, the alumni survey was administered to 543 engineering alumni from fourdifferent universities in the United States, which yielded 484 valid responses. The alumni surveyfocused on five areas: (1) degrees and employment; (2) learning experiences then and now; (3)self-concept, outcome expectations and interest; (4) satisfaction and plans; (5) backgroundcharacteristics. The questions on entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial affinity represented asubset of these questions.Preliminary results show that eight percent of these recent engineering graduates have startedtheir own company or organization, and an additional 22 percent report that they are eitherinterested in becoming an entrepreneur or are intending to start a new company. Moreover, 60percent of the participants who expressed entrepreneurial interest or intention revealed that theyhad worked on technical team-based projects with non-engineering students during theirundergraduate education.Understanding the characteristics of these entrepreneurial engineering alumni will helpengineering education researchers identify the specific patterns in behavior and psychometriccharacteristics that guide students in an entrepreneurial direction. Additionally, by understandingwhat kinds of entrepreneurial skills engineers need, universities can better ensure that newgraduates have the skills that are required to transition from the engineering school environmentinto a highly innovative work environment. Implications for designing approaches toentrepreneurial education within engineering curriculum as informed by these alumni surveyfindings will be discussed.ReferenceByers, T., Seelig, T., Sheppard, S., & Weilerstein, P. (2013). Entrepreneurship: Its Role in Engineering Education. Summer Issue of The Bridge on Undergraduate Engineering Education, 43(2), 35-40.

Rodriguez, J., & Chen, H. L., & Sheppard, S., & Jin, Q., & Brunhaver, S. R. (2014, June), Exploring Entrepreneurial Characteristics and Experiences of Engineering Alumni Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20471

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