Asee peer logo

Geeks Are Chic: Cultural Identity And Engineering Students’ Pathways To The Profession

Download Paper |


2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Knowing our Students, Part 1

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.775.1 - 12.775.18



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

Heidi Loshbaugh Colorado School of Mines


Brittany Claar Regis University

visit author page

Brittany A. Claar is an undergraduate student at Regis University, studying sociology; she has recently transferred from Colorado School of Mines, where she was a Chemical Engineering student and worked as a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) student for the Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education (CAEE). She has worked for CAEE for two years and has had direct involvement with preparing transcripts to be coded, developing a codebook for analysis of ethnographic interview data, and coding in ATLAS.ti, a software package used in analysis of qualitative data.

visit author page

Download Paper |

NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Geeks Are Chic: Cultural Identity and Engineering Students’ Pathways to the Profession Abstract This paper reports findings from a longitudinal study of undergraduate engineering students on their embracing of a campus and disciplinary culture, that of a “geek.” In analysis of data from the students’ first and second years, researchers examine the development of pre-professional engineering identity within the pseudonymous Mountain Technology Institute (MT or Mountain Tech). Authors speculate that despite widespread enjoyment in the first year of finding others— “geeks”—who share their interests, in the second year, some of MT’s undergraduates chafe at the narrowness of their engineering and technology education. Further, the authors postulate that the students who become reluctant to remain geeks throughout their undergraduate careers may be reluctant to remain in the engineering field.

Background and Motivation Nationwide, need for U.S. engineering talent continues to grow, yet enrollment in and graduation from engineering institutions continues to decline. If engineering educators better understand how students come to engage with their studies and chosen institutions as well as develop an identity with the profession, engineering colleges can adjust institutional climates to encourage more students to enroll in engineering studies and persist to completion.

Methods and Participants The Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education (CAEE) is a study funded by the National Science Foundation exploring the experience of undergraduate engineering students with the intended outcome of improving engineering education.1, 2, 3 The Academic Pathways Study (APS) is an element of CAEE; the research conducted and described in this paper is an outcome of the APS.

To better capture the common experiences as well as the institutional differences in engineering education, data has been collected at four engineering colleges. Identified by pseudonym, these institutions are Mountain Technical Institute (MT), a small public university specializing in teaching engineering and technology; Oliver University, a private, historically black mid- Atlantic institution; University of West State, a large public university in the Northwest; and University of Coleman, a medium-sized private university on the West Coast. All data for this paper were collected at MT, a small, public STEM institution, located in the Rocky Mountain West.

As part of a longitudinal, multiple-methods study, these data come from semi-structured ethnographic interviews. Interview questions focus on engineering students’ decision-making processes, activities, and objectives. This paper investigates the emergence of engineering identity among first- and second-year students, addressing this APS research question: What personal and institutional factors influence students’ decisions whether to persist in completing a major in engineering?

Using a socio-cultural context from anthropology,4, 5 in other work emerging from the CAEE, Steven, O’Connor, and Garrison (2005)6 discuss identity as being “double-sided.” Individuals

Loshbaugh, H., & Claar, B. (2007, June), Geeks Are Chic: Cultural Identity And Engineering Students’ Pathways To The Profession Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2196

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: © 2007 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