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"I Wish I Could Do More": A Qualitative Meta-analysis of Early Career Engineers' Perceptions of Agency in their Workplaces

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society Division Technical Session 6

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

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Paper Authors


Benjamin David Lutz California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo Orcid 16x16

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Ben Lutz is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Design at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. His research interests include engineering design pedagogies, conceptual change and development in mechanics, school-to-work transitions for new engineers, and efforts for diversity, equity, and inclusion in engineering. His current work explores how students describe their own learning in engineering design and how that learning supports transfer of learning from school into professional practice as well as exploring students' conceptions of diversity and its importance within engineering fields.

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Nathan E. Canney CYS Structural Engineers Inc.

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Dr. Canney conducts research focused on engineering education, specifically the development of social responsibility in engineering students. Other areas of interest include ethics, service learning, and sustainability education. Dr. Canney received bachelors degrees in Civil Engineering and Mathematics from Seattle University, a masters in Civil Engineering from Stanford University with an emphasis on structural engineering, and a PhD in Civil Engineering from the University of Colorado Boulder.

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Samantha Ruth Brunhaver Arizona State University

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Dr. Samantha R. Brunhaver is an Assistant Professor within The Polytechnic School, one of six schools in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. She is a mixed-methods researcher with focus on the preparation and pathways of engineering students. Her specific research interests include engineering student persistence and career decision-making, early career engineering practice, faculty pedagogical risk-taking, and entrepreneurial mindset. She completed her B.S. in Mechanical Engineering at Northeastern University and her M.S. and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University. Prior to ASU, she worked as an engineer at A. W. Chesterton, Boston Scientific, and Procter & Gamble.

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Engineering students graduate from their programs with a broad range of skills that are set by professional societies, industry recommendations, and other stakeholders in student success. But when those engineers enter their jobs, how are those skills utilized and nurtured by the organizations they enter? The purpose of this paper is to present a cross-sectional, secondary qualitative analysis of research exploring the experiences of recent engineering graduates as they move from student to professional. Of particular interest were the ways engineers describe their autonomy or sense of choice, the way engineers recognize and make sense of their organizations’ values, and the alignment (or lack thereof) between personal values and those of their organization. To do so, qualitative data sets from three different studies of engineers’ experiences at various stages in their professional trajectories were combined and thematically analyzed, producing four major themes that speak to the ways engineers perceive their sense of agency in their work experiences. Looking across data sets, themes emerged regarding empowerment, organizational fit, and workplace expectations. While these themes were common across the studies included in the analysis, the way the themes manifested across data sets raises interesting questions about the formation of engineers and the socialization experiences that contribute to that formation. As research on engineering practice continues to develop, it is important that researchers consider where engineers are within their career trajectory and how that influences their perceptions about the work they do and the agency they have within organizations.

Lutz, B. D., & Canney, N. E., & Brunhaver, S. R. (2019, June), "I Wish I Could Do More": A Qualitative Meta-analysis of Early Career Engineers' Perceptions of Agency in their Workplaces Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--31920

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