July 26, 2021
July 26, 2021
July 19, 2022
Educational Research and Methods
This research paper investigates how students’ latent diversity influences students disciplinary engineering major choices. Students bring interests, beliefs, and attitudes to engineering education, and in turn, norm to expectations and identities of their fields’ ways of being, thinking, and knowing. This dialectic process does not occur equitably; as students persist, the pressure to conform leads them to either assimilate, leave engineering, or labor to pioneer new spaces. This process of alienation and assimilation is particularly problematic given engineering’s long history of racism, sexism, and classism.
Additionally, engineering is not a monolith with varying rates of participation across engineering disciplines. Each engineering discipline has a unique culture and better understanding these differences can provide useful ways to change engineering disciplines to be more inclusive. First, we can identify opportunities to nurture ways of being, thinking, and knowing that would otherwise be pushed out (forms of latent diversity that are difficult to see but foster equity and inclusion nonetheless). Second, it can allow us to better tailor courses to fit students’ interests and needs, thus increasing student belonging and innovation and adoption of new ideas. To this end, we explore two research questions: (1) Do students’ engineering beliefs, career priorities, and field interests predict interest across several disciplines of engineering?; and (2) Are the relationships between students’ beliefs and discipline interests moderated by patterns of representation and parity?
Data for this study was collected from 32 U.S. ABET accredited institutions, with a total sample size of 3,711 undergraduate engineering students. We focused on students’ career priorities (“How important are the following factors for your future career satisfaction?”), field interests (“Rate the likelihood of you choosing a career in each of the following fields?”), and engineering agency beliefs (“Engineering can improve our society” and “Engineering knowledge is for the advancement of human welfare”). Students were also asked to rate their current interest in seventeen disciplines (e.g., “biomedical engineering” and “industrial engineering”) and two additional categories (“other STEM-related” and “other non-STEM-related”).
Our factor analysis identified nine constructs among the independent variables and clustered the disciplines into six categories. Regression analysis found some consistent relationships between variables, with the clearest connections between altruistic field and biochem-related engineering discipline interests (b = .33, p < .001) and commercial field and technology discipline interests (b = .20, p < .001). When focusing on technology and biochem disciplines, fields with opposing levels of gender parity, men reported a small positive relationship between altruistic field interests and technology discipline interest (b = .06, p = .005) while women and non-binary students reported the opposite (b = -.10, p = .002).
Overall, these results suggest that there are some predictive patterns in students’ beliefs, priorities, and field interests. Most effect sizes were small to medium, with R2 values ranging from .09 to .30. Men and women/non-binary students had generally parallel relationships, suggesting that beliefs, priorities, and field interests predict discipline interests similarly across gender groups, challenging some ideas about goal congruity and motivation. Additional results and potential implications will also be discussed in the paper.
Perkins, H., & Benedict, B. S., & Clements, H. R., & Godwin, A. (2021, July), Predicting Interest in Engineering Majors: The Role of Critical Agency and Career Goals Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. https://peer.asee.org/37593
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