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Exploring School-to-work Transitions through Reflective Journaling

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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

Career Development in Engineering: From Higher Education to Industry

Tagged Division

Continuing Professional Development

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Ben David Lutz Virginia Tech Orcid 16x16

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Ben Lutz is a PhD student in the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. His research interests include innovative pedagogies in engineering design, exploring student experiences within design settings, school-to-work transitions for new engineers, and efforts for inclusion and diversity within engineering. His current work explores how students describe their own learning in engineering design and how that learning supports transfer of learning from school into professional practice as well as exploring students' conceptions of diversity and its importance within engineering fields.

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Marie C. Paretti Virginia Tech Orcid 16x16

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Marie C. Paretti is a Professor of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech, where she co-directs the Virginia Tech Engineering Communications Center (VTECC). Her research focuses on communication in engineering design, interdisciplinary communication and collaboration, design education, and gender in engineering. She was awarded a CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation to study expert teaching in capstone design courses, and is co-PI on numerous NSF grants exploring communication, design, and identity in engineering. Drawing on theories of situated learning and identity development, her work includes studies on the teaching and learning of communication, effective teaching practices in design education, the effects of differing design pedagogies on retention and motivation, the dynamics of cross-disciplinary collaboration in both academic and industry design environments, and gender and identity in engineering.

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The school-to-work transition is a critical period for recent engineering graduates and can have significant impacts on graduates’ future decisions within the engineering discipline. As recent graduates engage in professional engineering practice for the first time, they acquire a wide range of knowledge regarding what to do, how to do it, and why it is done the way it is. Further, newcomers who have positive experiences during their organizational transitions tend to perform better and acclimate more effectively to their new environments than those who experience negative interactions. Thus, if we are committed to enhancing the competence and effectiveness of our engineering workforce, ensuring a successful school-to-work transition is an important element of such efforts. However, while learning during the school-to-work transition can influence many different aspects of one’s career, the ways in which this learning happens is largely underexplored. The purpose of this paper is to explore contexts for new learning and opportunities for transfer of undergraduate learning. To that end, we ask the following research question: How do recent engineering graduates describe salient learning experiences during the school-to-work transition?

To address this question, this study presents an analysis of data collected from a larger study exploring newcomer engineers’ learning during the school-to-work transition. Reflective journal prompts captured newcomers’ weekly experiences of self-reported salient learning events. Twelve participants answered 6 open-ended questions each week for 12 weeks that probed significant challenges, accomplishments, and learning opportunities as well as their relationship to prior undergraduate experiences. Findings point to two major conclusions regarding how learning takes place during the transition and the kinds of learning that appear to transfer across school and work contexts. First, learning experiences largely take place through unstructured, on-the-job activities that are often in response to the problems generated through the work itself. That is, while some structured training does take place within the initial transition, participants described their salient learning events as those occurring through informal interactions with coworkers and supervisors. Further, though engineering course material or technical knowledge were perceived as important during the transition, participants identified the structural similarities of previous experiences as the main facilitator of transfer of learning. Rather than focusing on course-specific content, participants drew from their broader experiences in the university (e.g., semester changes, approaches to studying, getting acquainted with teammates, moving into campus housing, etc.) when relating their learning to undergraduate experiences. Given these findings, we argue that while attention to engineering course content is necessary for effective teaching, engineering educators need to consider equally the contexts created to enable such learning.

Lutz, B. D., & Paretti, M. C. (2017, June), Exploring School-to-work Transitions through Reflective Journaling Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28332

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