June 23, 2013
June 23, 2013
June 26, 2013
Educational Research and Methods
23.621.1 - 23.621.20
From Freshman Engineering Students to Practicing Professionals: Changes in Beliefs about Important Skills over TimeFor years the engineering education community has been discussing the desired attributes of“The Engineer of 2020”, and engineering educators have changed their programs to betterprepare such engineers. Few studies have been able to follow students though theirundergraduate studies and beyond to track how and why their perceptions of important skillschange. Our purpose in this research was to explore what skills engineering students andgraduates believe are important for their careers and how these beliefs change over time.Data for this research were drawn from both the Academic Pathways Study (APS) and theEngineering Pathways Study (EPS). As part of APS, a group of undergraduate engineeringstudents were interviewed once and surveyed twice each year for the first three years of theirundergraduate studies. They were also surveyed once in their senior year, and some participantscompleted senior interviews. Approximately four years after the participants completed theirundergraduate studies, the Engineering Pathways Study (EPS) followed up with a subset of APSparticipants. EPS consisted of detailed questionnaires and interviews, and then the developmentof the PEARS (Pathways of Engineering Alumni Research Survey) instrument for broaderadministration. From two of the participating institutions, there were a total of 13 people thatcompleted the APS interviews, APS surveys, EPS questionnaire and/or interview, and PEARS.These 13 participants are the focus of our current research. The multitude of data available foreach participant provides a unique perspective on how beliefs about important skills develop andchange over the eight-year study.Overall our research is broadly situated in social cognitive career theory. This theory suggeststhat a variety of factors contribute to career choices and beliefs about the skills needed to be anengineer. Our data are both qualitative and quantitative. Participants were asked in surveys toselect important skills from a list as well as rate the importance of individual skills. They werealso asked to explain and describe their educational and professional experiences using importantskills in the interviews. Reflecting these sources, we relied on quantitative data to highlighttrends and qualitative data to explain the lived experiences. We used case study methods tofollow individual participants’ experiences over time.Our findings extend prior findings from APS, EPS, and other research. We found that whilestudents cite a variety of skills as necessary to being a successful engineer, each student tends toconsistently cite similar types of skills across time and across data measures. Also, from firstyear to fourth year then on into the profession, students develop greater specificity with whichthey can articulate skills and an ability to situate them in more realistic engineering contexts.These results are particularly valuable because of the comprehensive and longitudinal nature ofthe data. Understanding both students’ and graduates’ perspectives of important skills can helpus better prepare the next generation of students to have the skills that they will need for successin their endeavors.
Winters, K. E., & Matusovich, H. M., & Brunhaver, S. R., & Chen, H. L., & Yasuhara, K., & Sheppard, S. (2013, June), From Freshman Engineering Students to Practicing Professionals: Changes in Beliefs about Important Skills over Time Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19635
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