New Orleans, Louisiana
June 26, 2016
June 26, 2016
August 28, 2016
Minorities in Engineering
This research paper explores the relationship between students’ occupational values and their perceptions of engineering as a career field and how this relationship impacts major commitment. Research has documented substantial sex differences in occupational values and interests, where women are more likely to prefer communal or helping occupations while men are more likely to prefer individualistic or status-affording occupations. Researchers theorize that commitment to a college major is supported when there is an alignment between personal values and the value affordances of the career fields (i.e., what values the fields can meet). Some fields, such as engineering, are seen as only affording the pursuit of individualistic/status goals (vs. communal/helping goals). In this study, we explored whether male and female engineering students varied in the degree to which they believed engineering was a communal vs. individualistic profession, assessed their occupational values, and explored how both constructs predicted commitment to their engineering major.
This line of research is critical because the field of engineering, led by the National Academy of Engineering, is making increasing efforts to portray engineering as an important and exciting field of study that has profound impacts on society (e.g., “Changing the Conversation” and “Messaging for Engineering”; National Academy of Engineering). The Messages and Grand Challenges make strong efforts to change perceptions of engineering from a status-focused profession to a helping profession focused on people. The underlying theory of these campaigns is based on three assumptions: (1) perception of career affordances is malleable to intervention, (2) underrepresented groups differ in these perceptions or their personal values, and (3) retention in engineering among underrepresented groups can be promoted through value-affordances alignment. However, these theoretical links have are supported by little empirical research.
Our study addresses this gap using a longitudinal design where students reported their values, perceptions of engineering, and commitment to engineering at the start of the semester and then were re-surveyed on their perceptions and commitment at the end of the semester. Three semester cohorts have completed the survey (N=978). As expected, female engineering students showed stronger altruism values and males showed stronger status values (effect sizes around .33SD). Women also reported stronger beliefs that engineering was an altruistic/helping profession (.22 SD higher). Women showed moderate to strong relationships (r = 0.51 to 0.61) between their beliefs (status and communal), their communal values, and commitment to engineering at the end of the semester, but not the start of semester. Men showed no substantial relationships between their beliefs or values and commitment at any point, although they showed a modest relationship between value for status and commitment at the start of the semester (r=0.15). Our findings suggest that (1) alignment between occupational values and perceptions of the field impact commitment and (2) that perception of the engineering field may be malleable to intervention.
Lakin, J. M., & Davis, E. W., & Davis, V. A. (2016, June), Promoting Engineering Persistence Among Women through Alignment of Occupational Values and Perceptions of the Field Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25991
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