June 14, 2009
June 14, 2009
June 17, 2009
Educational Research and Methods
14.968.1 - 14.968.12
Preliminary Findings on Freshmen Engineering Students’ Professional Identity: Implications for Recruitment and Retention
Despite a significant increase in efforts to recruit and retain more engineering students through initiatives such as learning communities, mentoring, and pre-college programs, the decline in engineering enrollment continues. Recent research suggests that students’ identity and identification with engineering plays a critical role in their decision to pursue engineering and to persist once they start their professional education. This study further examines the role of identity among freshmen engineering students through the lens of identity theory. Whereas prior work focused on the development of a singular engineering identity, we draw on current research in social psychology to investigate the multi-faceted nature of identity, with one person being able to maintain several identities simultaneously, and its role in recruitment and retention. We undertook a qualitative study and conducted a combination of focus groups and interviews (N=36), focusing on engineering, science, and non-STEM students, including students who switched out of engineering. Questions were directed towards attempting to understand the factors involved in the development of a professional identity. In this paper, we present in-depth case studies of two female students to highlight the concept of multiple identities and their formation. Through this deep representation of professional identity, we found that exposure to engineering and overall familiarity with the field proved to be one of the largest factors effecting retention. Our preliminary findings point to the conclusion that recruitment and retention can be improved by increasing the presence of engineering in K-12 settings and undergraduate institutions respectively. We suggest directions for future work and discuss our plans to explore the development of the professional identity over time (from freshman to senior year) as well as additional levels of identity formation and transformation.
The need to protect the competitive ability of the U.S. and maintain its technological edge against challenges such as outsourcing and the comparative decline of U.S. engineers and scientists is increasingly becoming a national concern. This is evident from concerns raised by the academic community through publications such as Rising Above the Gathering Storm 1, through the mainstream media, via The World is Flat 2, and current policies, as evidenced by the passage of The America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellent in Technology, Education, and Science Act (COMPETES) in August 2007 3. COMPETES allocates over $40 billion to improving STEM educators, STEM education, and STEM work opportunities. This bill highlights and attempts to address the concerns of decreasing retention and recruitment rates of STEM students in higher education institutions.
According to the most recent Science and Engineering Indicators report of the National Science Foundation (NSF), the percentages of all freshmen intending to major in engineering or computer sciences dropped in recent years 4. Despite an increase in the numerous efforts to recruit and retain more engineering students, such as learning communities, mentoring, pre-
Beam, T., & Pierrakos, O., & Constantz, J., & Johri, A., & Anderson, R. (2009, June), Preliminary Findings On Freshmen Engineering Students’ Professional Identity: Implications For Recruitment And Retention Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. https://peer.asee.org/5112
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