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Looking at Engineering Students through a Motivation/Confidence Framework

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Understanding Our Students

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1025.1 - 22.1025.21



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Paper Authors


Samantha Ruth Brunhaver Stanford University

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Samantha Brunhaver is a third year graduate student at Stanford University. She is currently working on her Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering with a focus in engineering education. She completed a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Northeastern University in 2008 and a M.S. in Mechanical Engineering with a focus in Design for Manufacturing from Stanford University in 2010.

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Sheri Sheppard Stanford University

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Sheri D. Sheppard, Ph.D., P.E., is the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching Consulting Senior Scholar principally responsible for the Preparations for the Professions Program (PPP) engineering study, the results of which are in the report Educating Engineers: Designing for the Future of the Field. In addition, she is professor of Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University. Besides teaching both undergraduate and graduate design-related classes at Stanford University, she conducts research on weld and solder-connect fatigue and impact failures, fracture mechanics, and applied finite element analysis. In 2003, Dr. Sheppard was named co-principal investigator on a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to form the Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education (CAEE), along with faculty at the University of Washington, Colorado School of Mines, and Howard University.

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Ozgur Eris Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

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Ozgur Eris is Associate Professor of Design and Mechanical Engineering at Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering. His research interests include engineering design theory, design thinking, design informatics, and distributed product development. He received a B.S. from the University of Washington, and an M.S. and a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University. He has published on the role of inquiry in design, design knowledge generation and capture, and data mining. He is the author of Effective Inquiry for Engineering Design, Kluwer, 2004.

Contact information: Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, Olin Way, Needham, MA 02445; telephone: (+1) 781.292.2554; fax: (+1) 781.292.2505; e-mail:

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EFFECTS OF PSYCHOLOGICAL MOTIVATION AND PROFESSIONAL ANDINTERPERSONAL CONFIDENCE ON THE ENGINEERING STUDENT EXPERIENCEAbstractIn this paper we compare groups of engineering students along two dimensions, confidence inprofessional and interpersonal skills (C) and intrinsic psychological motivation to studyengineering (M). Findings from the Academic Pathways of People Learning Engineering Survey(APPLES) have shown that these measures are strong predictors of post-graduation plans andother student variables [1]. Comparing students along these dimensions will enable betterunderstanding of differences in their undergraduate experiences and new thinking about how toimprove engineering education.Our participants included 27 engineering students who were a part of the NSF-sponsoredAcademic Pathways Study (APS) and who graduated from Suburban Private University with anengineering degree in 2007. Surveys were administered to the students seven times during theirfour years in college. Items from the fourth survey, administered at the end of their sophomoreyear, were used to create psychological motivation and professional and interpersonal confidencescores for each student. Students were then categorized into one of four groups based on thesescores: the high psychological motivation/high professional and interpersonal confidence group(M/C), the high psychological motivation/low professional and interpersonal confidence group(M/c), and so on.Previous work with this data set revealed significant differences among the groups in terms ofconfidence in math and science skills and perceived importance of math and science skills toengineering in the students’ first two years [2]. The current study extends these findings to focuson differences between the groups in the students’ last two years. More specifically, we looked atstudents’ responses to the surveys administered at the end of their sophomore, junior, and senioryears. Repeated measures ANOVA, using group and administration as the factors, was theprimary method used in the data analysis.The students were equally distributed across the four groups. Furthermore, there were nodifferences in the gender or racial/ethnic composition of each group. Students in the M/C groupconsistently reported higher levels of interaction with instructors and lower levels of academicdisengagement than students in the m/c group. These findings are similar to those found inAPPLES [1]. Students in the M/C group also reported higher levels of confidence in theirproblem-solving abilities than students in the m/c group. Interestingly, all students except thosein the m/C group reported significant gains in their problem-solving ability between the end oftheir sophomore and junior years. The gap in m/C students’ confidence may be related to the factthat they had much less exposure to project-based learning during this time than did their peers.Finally, despite their low level of academic involvement, m/c students reported a significantincrease in satisfaction with their college experience between the end of their sophomores andjunior years, and they were the most satisfied with their college experience in both their juniorand senior years. This finding marks a departure from APPLES, in which m/c seniors weredetermined to be least satisfied with their college experience.References[1] Sheppard, Sheri, Shannon Gilmartin, Helen L. Chen, Krista Donaldson, Gary Lichtenstein,Özgür Eriş, Micah Lande, and George Toye. Exploring the engineering student experience:Findings from the Academic Pathways of People Learning Engineering Survey (APPLES).Technical Report CAEE-TR-10-01. Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education, 2010.[2] Otto, Elizabeth, Helen L. Chen, and Sheri D. Sheppard. 2010. Students Improving:Identifying Factors That Seem to Matter. In Proceedings of the American Society forEngineering Education Annual Conference, Louisville, KY, June 20-23, 2010.

Brunhaver, S. R., & Sheppard, S., & Eris, O. (2011, June), Looking at Engineering Students through a Motivation/Confidence Framework Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18505

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