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Perceived Importance of Leadership in their Future Careers Relative to Other Foundational, Technical and Professional Skills among Senior Civil Engineering Students

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Engineering Leadership Competency and Skill Development

Tagged Division

Engineering Leadership Development

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Angela R. Bielefeldt University of Colorado, Boulder

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Angela Bielefeldt is a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering (CEAE). She had served as the ABET assessment coordinator for the department since 2008. Bielefeldt is also a licensed P.E. Professor Bielefeldt's research interests in engineering education include service-learning, sustainable engineering, social responsibility, ethics, and diversity.

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Many demands are placed on undergraduate students to possess a broad range of foundational, technical, and professional knowledge and skills when they graduate. Expectancy value theory (EVT) indicates that students will be more motivated to learn topics that they believe will be important in their future, due to utility value. Self-efficacy beliefs also contribute to learning. Given this framework, the research explored student perceptions about the importance of leadership to their future professional careers, where they believed they had built their leadership skills (inclusive of courses and/or co-curricular activities), and broader student ideas about leadership. This exploratory research used a convenience sample of senior civil engineering students (n=117) attending a large, public, research-intensive institution. The students provided the information used in the study in the context of completing a homework assignment on lifelong learning and professional licensure. The students considered the importance of leadership in relation to the 24 outcomes in the Civil Engineering Body of Knowledge: four foundational knowledge topics (math, natural sciences, humanities, and social sciences), 11 technical outcomes (including problem solving, design, and mechanics), and 9 professional outcomes (including communication, teamwork, and leadership). In fall 2016 and 2017, 28% of the seniors rated leadership among the five most important outcomes for their future professional success; 4% rated leadership among the five least important outcomes. Leadership was the eighth most frequently cited outcome among the most important outcomes. Gender differences were found; 32% of the male students and 10% of the female students rated leadership among the five most important outcomes. A higher percentage of the 2016-2017 seniors believed that leadership was highly important for their future professional engineering careers, as compared to peers at the same institution 5 to 7 years earlier. There were four required courses that students routinely identified as contributing to their leadership knowledge and/or skills: first-year engineering projects, a junior-level introduction to construction course, capstone design (some students had not yet taken that course), and a professional issues course. Being introduced to leadership ideas early in the undergraduate curriculum, which are reinforced in later courses, may be a good strategy to motivate students and encourage their interest around leadership topics. A number of students also identified internships and other co-curricular activities as contributing to their leadership skills (e.g. ROTC, professional society president, sports activities). Instructors may want to consider the tenets of EVT when integrating leadership education into the curriculum, explaining the utility value of these skills in the workforce and using metacognition to have students reflect on their own leadership experiences so that they build self-efficacy around these skills.

Bielefeldt, A. R. (2018, June), Perceived Importance of Leadership in their Future Careers Relative to Other Foundational, Technical and Professional Skills among Senior Civil Engineering Students Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30869

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