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Exploring the Interest and Intention of Entrepreneurship in Engineering Alumni

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation Division – Epicenter Session

Tagged Division

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.738.1 - 26.738.22



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Paper Authors


Janna Rodriguez Stanford University

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Janna Rodriguez is a third year PhD 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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Helen L. Chen is a research scientist in the Designing Education Lab in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Director of ePortfolio Initiatives in the Office of the Registrar at Stanford University. She is also a member of the research team in the National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation (Epicenter). Helen earned her undergraduate degree from UCLA and her PhD in Communication with a minor in Psychology from Stanford University in 1998. Her current research interests include: 1) engineering and entrepreneurship education; 2) the pedagogy of ePortfolios and reflective practice in higher education; and 3) reimagining the traditional academic transcript.

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Sheri Sheppard Stanford University

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Sheri D. Sheppard, Ph.D., P.E., is professor of Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University. Besides teaching both undergraduate and graduate design and education related classes at Stanford University, she conducts research on engineering education and work-practices, and applied finite element analysis. From 1999-2008 she served as a Senior Scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, leading the Foundation’s engineering study (as reported in Educating Engineers: Designing for the Future of the Field). In addition, in 2003 Dr. Sheppard was named co-principal investigator on a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to form the Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education (CAEE), along with faculty at the University of Washington, Colorado School of Mines, and Howard University. More recently (2011) she was named as co-PI of a national NSF innovation center (Epicenter), and leads an NSF program at Stanford on summer research experiences for high school teachers. Her industry experiences includes engineering positions at Detroit's "Big Three:" Ford Motor Company, General Motors Corporation, and Chrysler Corporation.

At Stanford she has served a chair of the faculty senate, and recently served as Associate Vice Provost for Graduate Education.

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Larry Leifer 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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Exploring the Interest and Intention of Entrepreneurship in Engineering AlumniAmerica’s economic growth and international competitiveness depends on its ability to innovate[1]. Entrepreneurship is an important pathway to innovation and leadership, and up until nowthere has been little insight into how engineering graduates engage in entrepreneurial activities.This study explored how engineering alumni who are interested in starting a business or anorganization may be similar to or different from their peers based on a number of measures. Wealso explored why some engineering alumni who co-founded or started a company in the pastmay not longer have entrepreneurial interests.Two research questions guided this study:1. How did engineering alumni with high interest and intention to pursue entrepreneurialactivities compare with their peers with lesser interest and intention in terms of: demographics,engineering self-efficacy, career satisfaction, and undergraduate learning experiences?2. For engineering alumni who had been entrepreneurs, what activities led them to either becomemore entrepreneurially-minded or divert to a non-entrepreneurial career path?The participants in this study were 484 alumni who received their undergraduate engineeringdegrees in 2007 from four different universities in the United States. This alumni surveyincluded five sections: (1) degrees and employment; (2) learning experiences while earning adegree then and now; (3) self-concept, outcome expectations and interest; (4) satisfaction andplans; (5) background characteristics. The questions on entrepreneurship and entrepreneurialaffinity were represented as a subset of these questions.The high interest-high intention group had fewer women in it than the low interest-low intentiongroup (17.9% vs. 26/8%). In contrast, Non-US citizens and under-represented minority (URM)individuals were more present in the high interest-high intention group than in the interest-lowintention group (42.5% non-citizens and 42.0% URM in the high-high group, as compared with32.5% and 34.0%, respectively in the low-low group). At the same time, some of the collegeactivities that these alumni participated in as undergraduate students (e.g. study abroadprograms) were very similar to their peers who showed low interest in and/or low intention forentrepreneurship. In addition, for alumni who started or co-founded a company at some point inthe past, a little over 1/3 reported they would definitely start or co-found a company near thefuture. The balance (some 31%) are less sure or learning away from future endeavors, with 23%reporting maybe, 12% probably not and 6% definitely not.  The findings from this research study aim to help engineering education researchers understandentrepreneurial behavior by identifying the factors that promote and foster entrepreneurshipamong engineering alumni. In addition, by identifying what factors or circumstances discourageentrepreneurial activities, engineering schools may design programs and identify resources tobetter support students who are interested in the entrepreneurial path.[1] NEC [National Economic Council]. 2011. A Strategy for American Innovation: DrivingTowards Sustainable Growth and Quality Jobs. Washington.  

Rodriguez, J., & Chen, H. L., & Sheppard, S., & Leifer, L., & Jin, Q. (2015, June), Exploring the Interest and Intention of Entrepreneurship in Engineering Alumni Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24075

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2015 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015