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Perceptions Of Engineering Disciplines Among High School Students

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Assessing Perceptions of Engineers and Engineering

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.990.1 - 11.990.6



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Paper Authors


Leroy Cox University of Missouri-Rolla

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Leroy R. Cox is a postdoctoral fellow in the Engineering Management and Systems Engineering department at the University of Missouri – Rolla. He holds Bachelors degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Engineering Management (1999), a Master’s degree in Systems Engineering (2002), and a PhD in Engineering Management (2005) all from UMR. He has industry experience in the areas of process improvement/reengineering and mechanical design. His research interests include organizational behavior, virtual teams, and managing people in organizations.

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Cassandra Elrod University of Missouri-Rolla

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Cassandra C. Elrod is doctoral student in the Engineering Management and Systems Engineering department at the University of Missouri – Rolla. She holds a Bachelors degree in Engineering Management with an emphasis in Management of Technology (2003), and a Master’s degree in Engineering Management (2004), both from UMR. Her research interests include learning styles, engineering education, and organizational behavior issues.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract


According to the 2004-2005 Occupational Outlook Handbook1, engineers, whose work is the link between scientific discovery and commercial application, apply the theories and principles of science and mathematics as a means of researching and developing economical solutions to technical problems. However, one would not receive as concise a definition of the profession if they were to ask the average high school student. Individuals who have the necessary skills and talent to be successful engineers often have no idea as to what engineering, on the whole and with respect to particular discipline, is about.

To understand high school students’ perceptions toward engineering, sophomore-, junior- and senior-level high school students enrolled in chemistry, physics, upper-level mathematics courses, and an interdisciplinary engineering course offered in partnership with the University of Missouri - Rolla were surveyed to learn what they knew about particular engineering disciplines, engineering in general, and how they acquired this knowledge. Results of this exploration, as well as implications for recruitment efforts, are presented.


Two students, one a high school senior and the other a junior, are walking together from their morning classes. The older turns to the younger and says, “You are pretty good in math and science. You should consider, as I am, becoming an engineer.” The younger student turns to his friend and responds, “Why would I want to spend the rest of my life driving trains?”

From our earliest encounters with the question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” we have identified ourselves in professions that are relatively familiar – doctor, lawyer, teacher, firefighter, etc. Perhaps this stems from the fact that we have a favorite teacher, or firefighting is perceived to be an exciting career. Careers in medicine and the legal profession have been lauded via television – for almost as long as the medium has existed – as possessing the excitement, as well as material and altruistic rewards, that one seeks from a career. Who would not want to be involved in saving someone’s life, or bringing justice to someone who has wronged another – and make a lot of money doing it?

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the engineering profession. Seldom do we hear young people in elementary and junior-high school specify an interest in becoming an engineer, and it is almost unheard of for a young person to be as detailed as to express an interest in a particular engineering discipline. For the majority of our young lives, to be an engineer was to be exactly as mentioned in the anecdote above – a driver of trains.

The national demand for an abundant, diverse, and talented engineering workforce remains strong due to continued growth in national productivity. Overall employment in engineering is expected to increase 9.7 % during 2002 - 2012. By discipline, employment is expected to increase 10% to 20% in traditional (civil, mechanical, electrical, and aerospace); 21% to 35% in

Cox, L., & Elrod, C. (2006, June), Perceptions Of Engineering Disciplines Among High School Students Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--657

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