Asee peer logo

Leadership in Multidisciplinary Project Teams: Investigating the Emergent Nature of Leadership in an Engineering Education Context

Download Paper |


2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Engineering Leadership Development Constituent Committee Division Technical Session 2

Tagged Division

Engineering Leadership Development Division

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.846.1 - 24.846.14



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Megan Kenny Feister Purdue University

visit author page

Megan K. Feister is a doctoral candidate in the Brian Lamb School of Communication at Purdue University. Her research focuses on organizational identity and socialization, team communication, ethical reasoning development and assessment, and innovation and design. Megan holds a B.A. in communication from Saint Louis University and a M.A. in Organizational Communication from the University of Cincinnati.

visit author page


Carla B. Zoltowski Purdue University, West Lafayette

visit author page

Carla B. Zoltowski, Ph.D., is Co-Director of the EPICS Program at Purdue University. She received her B.S. and M.S. in electrical engineering and Ph.D. in engineering education, all from Purdue University. She has served as a lecturer in Purdue’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Dr. Zoltowski’s academic and research interests include human-centered design learning and assessment, service-learning, ethical reasoning development and assessment, leadership, and assistive technology.

visit author page


Patrice Marie Buzzanell Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Patrice M. Buzzanell is a Professor in the Brian Lamb School of Communication and the School of Engineering Education (courtesy) at Purdue University. Editor of three books and author of over 140 articles and chapters, her research centers on the intersections of career, gender, and communication, particularly in STEM. Her research has appeared in such journals as Human Relations, Communication Monographs, Management Communication Quarterly, Communication Theory, Human Communication Research, and Journal of Applied Communication Research, as well as proceedings for ASEE and FIE. A fellow and past president of the International Communication Association, she has received numerous awards for her research, teaching/mentoring, and engagement. She is working on Purdue-ADVANCE initiatives for institutional change, the Transforming Lives Building Global Communities (TLBGC) team in Ghana through EPICS, and individual engineering ethical development and team ethical climate scales through NSF funding as Co-PI. [Email:]

visit author page


William C. Oakes Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

visit author page

William (Bill) Oakes is the Director of the EPICS Program and Professor at Purdue University. He is one of the founding faculty members in the School of Engineering Education with courtesy appointments in Mechanical, Environmental and Ecological Engineering as well as Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education. He has received numerous awards for his efforts at Purdue including being elected as a fellow of the Teaching Academy and listed in the Book of Great Teachers. He was the first engineer to receive the U.S. Campus Compact Thomas Ehrlich Faculty Award for Service-Learning. He was a co-recipient of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering’s Bernard Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education and the recipient of the ASEE Chester Carlson Award for Innovation in Engineering Education. He is a fellow of ASEE and the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE).

visit author page

author page

Qin Zhu Purdue University Orcid 16x16

Download Paper |


Leadership in Multidisciplinary Project Teams: Investigating the emergent nature of leadership in an engineering education contextEngineering as a profession is increasingly a team-based and multidisciplinary endeavor,requiring not only technical skill but also the ability to work well with diverse groups of people.In engineering education, students begin to learn about project teams in which the members mustmake and execute decisions, relying increasingly on their own reasoning and abilities whilelearning to depart from the strictly teacher-led notion of learning. In such a context, leadershiptakes on a unique role and has important effects on a team’s ability to complete its tasks.Leadership in this context is not inherent; it is a fluid concept that emerges throughout the teamprocess.This study examines students’ perceptions of leadership in multidisciplinary project teams. Theresearchers conducted interviews and examined the talk of students participating on these teamsto explore their notions of leadership- how it emerges, what qualities a leader has, and the effectsof leadership on these kinds of teams. The authors use a discursive psychological approach toexamine how the students characterize and position leadership within their teams, as well aswhat perceived effects that leadership and its associated characteristics has on team performance.A discursive psychological approach enables the researchers to examine discourse on two levels:“little d” discourse as language-in-use in everyday talk, as well as “big D” Discourses whichrefer to systems of language or other sensemaking practices that form our social realities. TheseDiscourses inform social practices by offering certain discursive resources that are evidenced inthe “little d” everyday language of participants.It is important to understand how students perceive leadership, how they understand a leader’srole and importance, and how leadership impacts the work of the team. This study offers a viewinto how leaders emerge and are viewed on these project teams. Using this approach, theresearchers examined what characteristics the students find most salient about a leader on theirparticular project team. The researchers also investigated some of the qualities that emergeacross the participants to generate a notion of what students in this engineering education contextthink about leadership and its role in programs like these. The authors also considered howleadership is perceived and handled in project teams informs our understanding of howleadership can be taught and learned, and how young engineers can develop those essential skillsin today’s complex and fluid work environment.

Feister, M. K., & Zoltowski, C. B., & Buzzanell, P. M., & Oakes, W. C., & Zhu, Q. (2014, June), Leadership in Multidisciplinary Project Teams: Investigating the Emergent Nature of Leadership in an Engineering Education Context Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20737

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: © 2014 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