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Exploring the Role of Institutional Climate in Preparing Engineering Doctoral Students for Academic Careers

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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

Development as Faculty and Researcher: ERM Roundtable

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.741.1 - 26.741.22



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Paper Authors


Alexandra Coso Strong Georgia Institute of Technology Orcid 16x16

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Alexandra Coso is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Georgia Tech’s Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning. She completed her Ph.D. in 2014 in Aerospace Engineering at Georgia Tech. Prior to her time at Georgia Tech, she received her B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from MIT and her M.S. in Systems Engineering from the University of Virginia. Her research interests include graduate student experiences in engineering programs, engineering design education (especially in regards to the design of complex systems), and student preparation for post-graduation careers.

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Dia Sekayi Georgia Institute of Technology

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Dr. Dia Sekayi earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, an Ed.M. in the social foundations of education, and a Ph.D. in the sociology of education with foci on qualitative research and urban education from the State University of New York at Buffalo. Prior to her nearly 20-year career as a full-time faculty member, she taught mathematics and science in a small private elementary school. Sekayi has published refereed journal articles, books, and book chapters on various topics in the sociology of education. Her current scholarly interests include topics in the sociology of education as they relate to educational development in the higher education setting. She joined the Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning(CETL) at Georgia Tech in 2013 as the Assistant Director for Education. In this capacity, she manages the credit-bearing courses offered by CETL and all other graduate student development initiatives.

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Exploring the role of institutional climate in preparing engineering doctoral students for academic careersTo support doctoral students’ preparation for academic careers, many institutions haveestablished programs that provide opportunities for students to learn about educational theoryand participate in mentored teaching practice. The students who participate in these programsengage in new ways of thinking about teaching and learning as well as potential new avenues fortheir future career pathway. Yet, many of these programs are disconnected from the discipline-specific curriculum and must be completed in addition to research and teaching responsibilities.When considering how to further support doctoral students’ preparations for academic pathways,designers of these and similar programs need to account for the effects of particular componentsof the institutional climate on students’ pathways and teaching experiences. Institutional climatein this context considers structural and perceptual dimensions of the higher educationenvironment such as departmental climates, the influence of advisors, graduate programstructure, and the role of peer support. The purpose of this research is to explore the impact ofthe institutional climate at a state-sponsored research university on doctoral students’ pathwaysby examining the experiences of participants in a program that prepares students for academiccareers.A case study methodology was designed to address two research questions: (1) How do program alumni from engineering disciplines narrate their experiences within this program? (2) How do program alumni from engineering disciplines describe the role of institutional climate in their pathway towards an academic career?The academic career preparation program under examination consists of two-level (intermediateand advanced) certificate programs as well as additional opportunities for students to participatein workshop or consultations with program staff. Program alumni include both current doctoralstudents and recent graduates who received at least the lower-level (intermediate) certificate.Multiple sources of data from program alumni are being collected concurrently: an onlinesurvey, course work, semi-structured interviews, and an online discussion forum.The online survey is used to capture the extent to which participants use the techniques andconcepts from the program within their current position and any supports or barriers to their use.Semi-structured interviews facilitate an understanding of how the participants interpret theirexperiences within the program and how those experiences have affected their career trajectory.An online discussion forum provides a setting for an asynchronous focus group to captureparticipants’ narratives of their experiences within and after completing the program. Within theprogram’s courses, students drafted final reflection reports and teaching philosophy statements.A review of this coursework furthers our understanding of how students narrate changes in theirperceptions, attitudes, and/or intentions within and across the program’s courses. A modifiedanalytic induction methodology will be used to analyze and synthesize the data. Initialhypotheses will be formed from emergent patterns in a preliminary analysis of three semi-structured interviews.Results of this study will support the continued improvement of career preparation programs bytaking into account the effect of institutional climate on doctoral student preparation for diversecareer pathways. In addition, these results will complement existing research about the graduatestudent experience and the development of future faculty.

Strong, A. C., & Sekayi, D. (2015, June), Exploring the Role of Institutional Climate in Preparing Engineering Doctoral Students for Academic Careers Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24078

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