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Should Professional Engineering Identity be the only Identity Considered when Developing Programs?

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2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Minneapolis, MN

Publication Date

August 23, 2022

Start Date

June 26, 2022

End Date

June 29, 2022

Conference Session

ERM: Engineering Identity: (Identity Part 1)

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Paper Authors


Meena Thiyagarajah University of Florida

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Meena Thiyagarajah is the Director of Finance, with IFAS at University of Florida and is a doctoral student with the Science Education program in the School of Teaching and Learning in the University of Florida. She has also earned her MS in Economics from the University of Florida and her MBA from the University of Southern Queensland. Her research interest includes undergraduate engineering education, gaining insights related to learner preferences, factors that influence individual identities and processes and tools that aid learning.

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Kent Crippen University of Florida

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Professor of STEM Education

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Bruce Carroll University of Florida

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Bruce Carroll is the associate chair for academic programs in the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Florida.

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Tracy Johns University of Florida

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Should Professional Engineering Identity be the only Identity Considered when Developing Programs?

Paper Type: Work In Progress (WIP).

The narrative construction of one’s identity—the various ways a person sees themself—is recognized as a continually evolving, multifaceted process based upon an inner dialog. Identity is recognized as a precursor to motivation. Both identity and motivation support persistence in engineering. Professional identity, in the case of undergraduate students viewing themselves as a professional engineer, is not an intentionally facilitated process, rather an individual construction of the profession’s duties, responsibilities, and know-how. Some institutions are revising their undergraduate curriculum based upon explicitly promoting professional identity development. This study involves a systematic review of published studies in this genre to determine thematic attributes associated with cultivating professional identity. We sought to synthesize idiographic findings from peer-reviewed studies from 2019 through 2021 that used qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methodologies. Our results indicate a general focus on the early development of a professional identity, where recognizing multiple selves (i.e., identities), including gendered differences lend insight on how to effectively construct a personalized engineering profile for students specific to the engineering discipline.

Although trajectories of change in identity during the first year on a college campus are important predictors of retention and persistence, extant literature provides little explanation for how an individual’s “engineering identity” transforms from the onset-precollege, during college, through graduation, and finally when delving into a professional career. The varied singular focused structured frameworks on engineering identity formation results in a simplistic description of engineering students following a pattern of “foreclosure in relation to the individual experience of their identities.”

Students are required to commit to a discipline early in college and are thus compelled to commit to a particular identity. This fragile connection in the absence of a sense of belonging within fixed parameters can easily be broken. There are also several fundamental categories for identity formation such as space, performance, communication, exposure to role models, institutional identity, affinity identity, perception, and affective ability.

Early-onset findings indicate females identify more with multiple identities and have a stronger sense of this when entering engineering, unlike their male counterparts. Thus, examining gender differences during identity construction and implications in male-dominated professions, in particular, is important to personalize identity formation to develop a deep sense of belonging and relation. The ability to relate grounds the sense of belief and allows individuals to feel secure; coupling this with experiences in the workplace further solidifies this identity. Since identity development is dialogic and social, engineering curriculum coupled with effective communication plays a key role in fostering a sense of belonging by attending to how the pathway to graduation might cultivate relational experiences. Support for identity development should involve a dynamic individualized approach; one that is tailored to adjust as the individual matures during the pursuit of the degree through graduation and beyond. Understanding these constructs and how these identities intersect and differ from each other at different stages of development is important in moving processes and programs forward that support student advising, mentoring, and ultimately retention and success.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Keywords - Engineering Identity, Engineering Identity development, Gender, Intersectional Identity, Multiple selves (Word count excluding keywords and title is 498)

Thiyagarajah, M., & Crippen, K., & Carroll, B., & Johns, T. (2022, August), Should Professional Engineering Identity be the only Identity Considered when Developing Programs? Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN. 10.18260/1-2--41141

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