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I’m Graduating This Year! So What Is An Engineer Anyway?

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Student Attitudes and Perceptions

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.821.1 - 14.821.18



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Paper Authors


Holly Matusovich Virginia Tech

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Holly Matusovich is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering Education. Dr. Matusovich recently joined Virginia Tech after completing her doctoral degree in Engineering Education at Purdue University. She also has a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and an M.S. in Materials Science with a concentration in Metallurgy. Additionally Dr. Matusovich has four years of experience as a consulting engineer and seven years of industrial experience in a variety of technical roles related to metallurgy and quality systems for an aerospace supplier. Dr. Matusovich’s research interests include the role of motivation in learning engineering as well as retention and diversity concerns within engineering education and engineering as a profession.

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Ruth Streveler Purdue University

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Ruth A. Streveler is an Assistant Professor in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. Before coming to Purdue she spent 12 years at Colorado School of Mines, where she was the founding Director of the Center for Engineering Education. Dr. Streveler earned a BA in Biology from Indiana University-Bloomington, MS in Zoology from the Ohio State University, and Ph.D in Educational Psychology from the University of Hawaii at M?noa. Her primary research interest is investigating students’ understanding of difficult concepts in engineering science.

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Ronald Miller Colorado School of Mines

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Dr. Ronald L. Miller is professor of chemical engineering and Director of the Center for Engineering Education at the Colorado School of Mines where he has taught chemical engineering and interdisciplinary courses and conducted engineering education research for the past 23 years. Dr. Miller has received three university-wide teaching awards and has held a Jenni teaching fellowship at CSM. He has received grant awards for education research from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education FIPSE program, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education and has published widely in the engineering education literature. He won the Wickenden Award from the American Society for Engineering Education for best paper published in the Journal of Engineering Education during 2005.

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Barbara Olds Colorado School of Mines

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

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. 10.18260/1-2--5142

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: © 2009 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