June 26, 2011
June 26, 2011
June 29, 2011
22.1214.1 - 22.1214.20
Re-engineering engineering education: A comparison of student motivation, ability development and career paths in traditional and interdisciplinary engineering degree programsRecent studies by the NAE and others have noted the broad changes in engineering practicetoday. With the breadth and complexity of global problems engineers will face comes a blurringof boundaries among engineering disciplines, and between engineering and social sciences.Schools in both the U.S. and abroad have addressed this call for change in engineering educationthrough innovations in traditional engineering curricula to broaden disciplinary perspectives.Few studies, however, carefully examine the impact of traditional and interdisciplinaryengineering programs on student abilities, motivation, attitudes, or career paths.This study examines the impact of two engineering degree programs on students and graduates: atraditional mechanical engineering degree program (ME) and an interdisciplinary engineeringdegree program (IME) with a strong core of mechanical engineering. These two programs are ofparticular interest for comparison since the core curriculum of each program is identical,therefore, graduates of each program have a comparable knowledge and ability base. The groupsdiffer in permitted concentration areas which make up 40% of their curriculum. While MEstudents are restricted to additional ME subjects, IME students can complete a substantialconcentration in such areas as management, international development, or biomedicalengineering.Two online surveys, undergraduate and alumni, were designed to compare impact of the twoprograms. The surveys were designed and tested to carefully measure student motivations forstudying engineering and program choice, perceptions about traditional and interdisciplinaryengineering programs, self-efficacy in traditional engineering and interdisciplinary abilities,importance of those abilities after graduation, and career choices. Respondents were asked toreport on self-efficacy for a tested set of concrete engineering and interdisciplinary tasks using aBandura-style confidence scale.A total of 150 undergraduates (35% response rate) and 504 alumni (50% response rate)responded to the undergraduate and alumni surveys, respectively. The survey results revealedstatistically significant differences in student and graduate extrinsic and intrinsic motivations forchoosing engineering as a field of study as well as for choosing interdisciplinary versustraditional engineering programs. The survey results also revealed statistically significantdifferences in student and graduate self-efficacy in key interdisciplinary abilities needed toaddress complex technological problems. Current IME students and graduates reported higher orequal self efficacy than their ME peers in abilities of design, problem solving methods,application of engineering principles and math in problem solving, and teamwork. Career plansand paths of students and graduates of the two programs also differed significantly with IMEgraduates being able to shape unique careers tangential to traditional engineering jobs.The results of this study suggest that interdisciplinary engineering degree programs can bedesigned that address students’ unique interests, yet are still able to develop traditionalengineering and interdisciplinary abilities with equal strength. These graduates are then able touse these strengths in shaping unique career paths. Ability confidence and motivation have alsobeen found to be closely related in shaping students’ choice of major and career paths.
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