June 14, 2009
June 14, 2009
June 17, 2009
Educational Research and Methods
14.821.1 - 14.821.18
I’m Graduating This Year! So What IS an Engineer Anyway? Abstract
Drawing on current motivation and identity literature, this research examines students’ perceptions of themselves as engineers in the future and how this shapes their choices to be engineers. The primary data for this study were interviews collected over a four year period with ten students. Using multiple case study methods, the interview data were qualitatively analyzed. Participants in this study included five men and five women at Technical Public University (TPub, pseudonym). The results support two assertions. First, participants’ views of themselves as future engineers include being good in math and science, being good communicators, being good at teamwork and enjoying activities they believe engineers do, doing problem-solving and having/applying technical knowledge. Second, despite almost four years in engineering-related classes and activities, three of ten participants remain unsure of what it means to be an engineer. Research and classroom implications are discussed. This research is part of the Academic Pathways Study (APS) conducted by the NSF-funded Center for Advancement of Engineering Education (CAEE).
We often assume that graduating engineering students readily envision what it means to be an engineer and what type of work they will be doing as engineers in the future. How can we know if this is true? This research begins to answer these questions by aiming to understand undergraduate engineering students’ perceptions of themselves as engineers in the future as well as by considering how these perceptions shape their choice to become engineers. Why might this matter?
Our justification for this research is the need to understand, from the student perspective, the choice to become an engineer. Developing this understanding is key to answering recent calls 1-5 to increase the number and diversity of engineering graduates and change the way these graduates are educated and prepared for engineering careers. For example NAE 3 states that engineers of the future will not only have to be technically proficient, but also broadly educated and globally-aware for the jobs they are likely to face. However to attract and retain more students and to set educational and career goals for them, we need to understand why students choose to enter and persist in engineering programs.
Theoretical Framework and Research Questions
The theoretical framework for this research is Eccles’ expectancy-value model6, 7. This model highlights ability beliefs, how people judge their ability for a particular activity and value or important beliefs, how important an activity is to a person. Eccles’ model suggests that people typically choose to engage in activities 1) that they believe they can do well (positive ability belief) and/or 2) activities that are important to them (positive importance belief). Within this model, identity beliefs contribute to ability and importance beliefs. Identity is broadly defined as the kind of person that one is now or wants to be in the future.
Matusovich, H., & Streveler, R., & Miller, R., & Olds, B. (2009, June), I’m Graduating This Year! So What Is An Engineer Anyway? Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. https://peer.asee.org/5142
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