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Shared Leadership in Mechanical Engineering-Centric Capstone Design Teams: A Comparison of Military and Civilian Engineering Programs

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

Developing an Academic Framework Supportive of our Military Veterans

Tagged Division

Military and Veterans Constituent Committee

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Paper Authors


Brian J Novoselich P.E. Virginia Tech

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Brian Novoselich is an active duty Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army and currently a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. His is a former assistant professor at the United States Military Academy and will return to the department in the fall of 2016. His research interests include capstone design teaching and assessment, undergraduate engineering student leadership development, social networks.

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David B Knight Virginia Tech Department of Engineering Education Orcid 16x16

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David Knight is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering Education and affiliate faculty with the Higher Education Program, Center for Human-Computer Interaction, and Human-Centered Design Program. His research focuses on student learning outcomes in undergraduate engineering, learning analytics approaches to improve educational practices and policies, interdisciplinary teaching and learning, organizational change in colleges and universities, and international issues in higher education.

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There is a continuing call for the development of engineers who can become leaders in helping solve the world’s grand challenges. Leadership scholars suggest that “shared leadership” may be a more effective leadership model than the hierarchical, individual leadership model that is typically used in team-based capstone design projects. The capstone experience replicates the creative, complex, and interdependent knowledge work for which shared leadership has been shown to be more effective. While many programs look toward the capstone design experience to help build students’ professional skills, which includes leadership, student preparation for the leadership challenges associated with the capstone design team experience may widely vary. Unlike some of their civilian counterparts, military academies and military colleges often incorporate a highly developed leadership curriculum throughout the four-year college experience, whereas civilian engineering universities tend to be less purposeful in their development of engineering student leadership. Little is known, however, regarding how civilian and military undergraduate engineering students approach and share leadership in their formative, design experiences.

The purpose of this study is to examine institutional differences in the level of shared leadership enacted by senior level capstone design teams within the mechanical engineering programs at two military and one civilian institution. Looking across three leadership scales derived from the Full Range of Leadership model, this study identifies significant differences in the shared leadership enacted by capstone design teams across those institutions. We draw upon a sample of 209 student round-robin leadership ratings using a subset of the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire; this sample represents 45 senior level capstone design teams. Using social network analyses, density and centralization of team leadership networks are calculated across three scales that each represents a different form of leadership. These network variables are compared across institutions using non-parametric analysis of variance. This comparison of leadership in mechanical engineering capstone design teams across three military and civilian institutions provides critical insights into the ways students enact and share leadership within their capstone design experience. Our results uncover civilian and military institution level differences that may play a role in differential leadership development across these two populations of undergraduate engineering students.

Novoselich, B. J., & Knight, D. B. (2016, June), Shared Leadership in Mechanical Engineering-Centric Capstone Design Teams: A Comparison of Military and Civilian Engineering Programs Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26180

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