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Exploring the Early Career Pathways of Degree Holders from Biomedical, Environmental, and Interdisciplinary/Multidisciplinary Engineering

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Postgraduate Pathways and Experiences

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Jacqueline Rohde Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Jacqueline A. Rohde is a third-year graduate student at Purdue University as the recipient of an NSF Graduate
Research Fellowship. Her research interests in engineering education include the development student identity and attitudes, with a specific focus on the pre-professional identities of engineering undergraduates who join non-industry occupations upon graduation.

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Jared France Purdue University, West Lafayette


Brianna Benedict Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Brianna Benedict is a Graduate Research Assistant in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. She completed her Bachelor's and Master's of Science in Industrial and Systems Engineering at North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University. Her research interest focuses on interdisciplinary students' identity development, belongingness in engineering, and agency.

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Allison Godwin Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Allison Godwin, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Engineering Education at Purdue University. Her research focuses what factors influence diverse students to choose engineering and stay in engineering through their careers and how different experiences within the practice and culture of engineering foster or hinder belongingness and identity development. Dr. Godwin graduated from Clemson University with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and Ph.D. in Engineering and Science Education. Her research earned her a National Science Foundation CAREER Award focused on characterizing latent diversity, which includes diverse attitudes, mindsets, and approaches to learning, to understand engineering students’ identity development. She has won several awards for her research including the 2016 American Society of Engineering Education Educational Research and Methods Division Best Paper Award and the 2018 Benjamin J. Dasher Best Paper Award for the IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference. She has also been recognized for the synergy of research and teaching as an invited participant of the 2016 National Academy of Engineering Frontiers of Engineering Education Symposium and the Purdue University 2018 recipient of School of Engineering Education Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching and the 2018 College of Engineering Exceptional Early Career Teaching Award.

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This research paper describes a mixed methods exploration into the early career pathways of individuals who majored in biomedical engineering, environmental engineering, and interdisciplinary/multidisciplinary engineering. There are a number of studies that investigate students’ pathways post-graduation; however, most of these studies focus solely on engineering industry pathways or track the first placement after graduation. This study explores a wider perspective of pathways that engineering graduates may take through a retrospective study at a single institute. First, we examined how 273 alumni retrospectively described the first four positions in their career pathways (e.g., working in a particular job, attending graduate school, etc.). We used descriptive statistics to understand patterns in graduate programs, job titles, and industry sectors. We found that even when positions did not include “engineer” in the job title, many alumni remained in engineering-related sectors or reported that their positions were related to engineering. We also leveraged Sankey diagrams to represent the “flow” of individuals across different positions. These diagrams revealed the breadth of career pathways, with alumni moving into and out of engineering positions. Second, we performed a content analysis on write-in responses in which alumni expanded upon their survey answers. Within the interpretive limits of the data, we observed two general ways in which alumni framed their careers. In “positive” presentations, alumni discussed the value of their engineering degree, especially the development of problem-solving skills. In “negative” presentations, alumni expressed a lack of control over their careers and expressed doubts over their relationship with engineering. Additionally, several alumni commented about being unconventional in their careers, which is notable given the general heterogeneity of early career pathways. These findings have implications for continued conversations about degree programs that ostensibly prepare students to work as engineers, but which also prepare them to seek out other fulfilling career opportunities. Future work based on this preliminary analysis will explore the career pathways of other engineering majors.

Rohde, J., & France, J., & Benedict, B., & Godwin, A. (2020, June), Exploring the Early Career Pathways of Degree Holders from Biomedical, Environmental, and Interdisciplinary/Multidisciplinary Engineering Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34646

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