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In Search of the Engineers of 2020: An Outcomes-based Typology of Engineering Undergraduates

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Contextual Competencies

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.757.1 - 25.757.26



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Paper Authors

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David B. Knight Pennsylvania State University, University Park Orcid 16x16

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In Search of the Engineers of 2020: An Outcomes-Based Typology of Engineering UndergraduatesMembers of government and industry have called on U.S. colleges and universities to placegreater emphasis on educating engineers who can enter and advance a new global workforce.These demands complement beliefs that the nation must improve and change the way we deliverengineering education to remain competitive globally, sustain national security, and provideeconomic prosperity. Looking toward this future, the National Academy of Engineering outlineda strategy in The Engineer of 2020: Visions of Engineering in the New Century that describes thecharacteristics and skills that will be required of engineering graduates to be successful in theworkforce of 2020. Not only will engineers need to exhibit strong analytical skills as in the past,but they also will need to possess a cadre of new abilities to compete.Furthermore, engineers must develop many different skills by the time they graduate; industrydemands that graduates have strong fundamental and design skills and be able to work ininterdisciplinary teams and possess leadership, communication, and teamwork skills andunderstand contextual constraints placed on solutions. Rather than explore the development ofmultidimensional skill sets, most research on engineering students’ learning outcomes explores asingle skill in isolation, focusing for example on teamwork or design skills or visualizationrather than understanding these skills in relation to one another.In this paper, the suite of knowledge and skills associated with the “engineer of 2020” (E2020) isexamined to 1) determine whether there are engineering seniors who score highly on alloutcomes, and 2) develop an outcomes-based profile of students and how these vary byengineering discipline.Data are drawn from an NSF-funded study entitled Prototype to production: Processes andconditions for preparing the Engineer of 2020 (NSF-EEC 0550608). The investigation uses anationally-representative survey of engineering students from 31 institutions representing over120 programs in seven engineering disciplines (biomedical/bioengineering, chemical, civil,electrical, general, industrial, and mechanical). Nine outcomes scales emerged from these datafollowing factor analysis: fundamental skills, design skills, communication skills, teamworkskills, leadership skills, contextual awareness, interdisciplinary skills, recognizing disciplinaryperspectives, and reflective behavior. Using two-stage cluster analysis, a statistical techniquethat identifies homogeneous groupings in a sample, students within each of the engineeringdisciplines were classified into separate clusters according to the combination of outcomes. Thistypology of engineering students based on the E2020 outcomes is the first of its kind.Results indicate that a single cluster within each discipline contains students scoring highly on alloutcomes. These students can be characterized as the engineers of 2020 that each of these sevenengineering disciplines seek to develop. This paper examines disciplinary variations among theclusters and describes the demographic characteristics and pre-college academic records ofstudents who reside within each cluster. Findings from this work inform a larger study thatidentifies differences in educational experiences between students in different clusters todemonstrate the best practices that engineering programs should adopt to increase the number ofE2020 graduates.

Knight, D. B. (2012, June), In Search of the Engineers of 2020: An Outcomes-based Typology of Engineering Undergraduates Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21514

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