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Into the Pipeline: A Freshman Student's Experiences of Stories Told About Engineering

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Research on Diversification & Inclusion

Tagged Divisions

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering, Liberal Education/Engineering & Society, Women in Engineering, New Engineering Educators, and Student

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1018.1 - 26.1018.19



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Paper Authors


Michael Brewer University of Georgia

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University of Georgia

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Nicola Sochacka University of Georgia

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Dr. Nicki Sochacka received her doctorate in Engineering Epistemologies from the University of Queensland, Australia, in 2011. She is currently a member of the CLUSTER research group at the University of Georgia where she holds a research and teaching position. Nicki’s areas of research interest include: STEAM (STEM + Art) education, diversity, interpretive research quality, the role of empathy in engineering education and practice, and student reflection.

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Joachim Walther University of Georgia

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Dr. Walther is an assistant professor of engineering education research at the University of Georgia (UGA). He is a director of the Collaborative Lounge for Understanding Society and Technology through Educational Research (CLUSTER), an interdisciplinary research group with members from engineering, art, educational psychology and social work.

His research interests range from the role of empathy in engineering students' professional formation, the role of reflection in engineering learning, and interpretive research methodologies in the emerging field of engineering education research.

His teaching focuses on innovative approaches to introducing systems thinking and creativity into the environmental engineering program at the University of Georgia.

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Into the Pipeline: A freshman student’s experiences of stories told about engineeringThere is a growing recognition of the potential impact of messaging (see the NAE’s Changing theConversation report) on attracting and retaining a large and diverse student body in engineering. Thepurpose of this paper is to critically analyze a non-traditional (GED and junior college entry), freshmancollege student’s experiences of how faculty, staff, and administrators define and speak aboutengineering.Theoretically, this study is grounded in recent work by Sochacka et al. (2014) who used NarrativePolicy Analysis (NPA) to develop an evidence-based model of stories ‘told’ about engineering in thepublic discourse. This model, which comprises five dominant stories based on a single underlyingpremise, one counterstory, and one nonstory, is used as a lens to examine three significant moments inthe student’s (the first author of this paper) freshman year in an undergraduate environmentalengineering program at a large public university in the south eastern region of the United States .Autoethnographic techniques are used to construct three accounts of the student’s encounters withvarious members of faculty, an academic advisor, and the dean of the college. These encounters wereselected for their relevance to the formation of the student’s understanding of engineering culture fromthe classroom to the level of national discourse.In the analysis of these three transformative experiences, we discover tensions between the messagesendorsed by the NAE and actual student experiences in an engineering undergraduate program.Specifically, we use Sochacka et al.’s narrative model of stories ‘told’ about engineering in the publicdiscourse to frame the following three themes: 1. Prioritization of economic recovery and growth over individual life and career goals; 2. A focus on the quantitative and technical aspects of engineering practice to the exclusion of qualitative and social aspects; and 3. A ‘production mindset’ that gives precedence to quickly generating a large number of engineering professionals to inject into the workforce over recognizing the broader educational goals of students.We argue that defining and speaking about engineering in these ways does not do justice to thediversity of student experiences of becoming, and wanting to become, an engineer. Based onthese findings, we suggest that university administration, staff, and faculty develop an awareness ofimplicit messages communicated to students in order to be able to better respond to the diversepriorities and values that students bring to their education and carry throughout their professionaldevelopment.

Brewer, M., & Sochacka, N., & Walther, J. (2015, June), Into the Pipeline: A Freshman Student's Experiences of Stories Told About Engineering Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24355

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