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Staying In or Getting Out: The Relationship Between Undergraduate Work Exposure and Job Satisfaction After Graduation

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Exploring Student Affairs, Identities, and the Professional Persona

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

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Paper Authors


Alexandra Vinson Northwestern University

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Alexandra H. Vinson is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology & Science Studies from the University of California, San Diego. Her research interests include professional education and enculturation in medicine and STEM fields.

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Reed Stevens Northwestern University

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Reed Stevens is a Professor of Learning Sciences at Northwestern University. He holds a B.A. in Mathematics from Pomona College and PhD in Cognition and Development from the University of California, Berkeley. Professor Stevens began his professional career as a mathematics teacher. For the past two decades, he has studied STEM learning both in and out of school. His research seeks to understand how and when learning environments are productive for people and to translate those findings into practical use in the design and resdesign of learning environments. In recent years and in collaboration with colleagues at Northwestern, he created FUSE Studios to reimagine STEAM education around the values of innovation, making, and collaboration ( Since 2012, FUSE has been implemented in more than 135 school and community sites around the US and will soon begin in Helsinki, Finland. Stevens co-led two large National Science Foundation (NSF) research centers—the Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education (CAEE) and the Learning in Informal and Formal Environments Center (LIFE)—and has received numerous research grants from NSF and various private foundations. Articles of his relevant to the engineering education research community include “Becoming an engineer: Toward a three dimensional view of engineering learning” (2008) in the Journal of Engineering Education and "Professional engineering work” (2014) in the Cambridge handbook of engineering education research.

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What factors contribute to persistence or attrition in professional engineering work amongst young engineers? Past research has examined the formation of engineering students’ professional identity, showing that the images of work students articulate at various stages of their education reflect not only students’ identity in formation, but also their expectations about the type of work they will undertake as professional engineers. However, past research has not directly examined the transition period from college to the workforce—the time when young engineers compare their expectations of professional engineering work with their actual work activity. In this paper, we discuss the transition experiences of young engineers. Drawing from interviews (n = 30) with 16 soon-to-graduate and recently graduated engineers, we examine how new engineers assess their fit with their jobs. We focus on how engineers articulate whether their first jobs match the images of work they envisioned as college students, and how these engineers draw on images of work formed through undergraduate work experience and discussions of work in classroom settings to assess their fit in their jobs. We find that students who participated in pre-graduation internships in similar work environments had better articulated images of daily work than those who had participated in internships in different work environments or who had no internship experience at all. We further find that students who have held internships in several different companies tend to have smooth and satisfying transitions into full-time work. Our findings have implications for understanding the mechanisms affecting persistence and attrition in professional engineering work by highlighting the role of pre-graduation work experience in the college-to-work transition.

Vinson, A., & Stevens, R. (2016, June), Staying In or Getting Out: The Relationship Between Undergraduate Work Exposure and Job Satisfaction After Graduation Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25867

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