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Students' Changing Images Of Engineering And Engineers

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

SPECIAL SESSION: Describing the Engineering Student Learning Experience Based on CAEE Findings: Part 2

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.1113.1 - 13.1113.28



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Paper Authors

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Andrew Jocuns University of Washington

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Reed Stevens University of Washington

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Lari Garrison University of Washington

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Daniel Amos University of Washington

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Students’ changing images of engineering and engineers Abstract

As part of a longitudinal study of engineering students on four campuses spanning four years, students were asked questions each year about their images of the work of engineers. Such questions included: what do you expect to do on a day-to-day basis, how did you become interested in engineering, what are the characteristics that make a good engineer, and others. In responses to such questions students described how they imagined engineering workplaces and the work of engineering. We found that students in their first year of preparation to become engineers knew little about what kind of work they would be doing in the future as engineers. That is, they developed hopeful images of engineering. In some cases these images were altered or augmented in later years to become more mundane. For some students images from the first year remained virtually unchanged into their fourth year. Our discussion reflects how students’ identities are affected both by common, widely circulating images of engineering and the absence of real workplace experiences in the undergraduate engineering education.


This study reports on findings from four years of ethnographic interviews with engineering students at four schools. Specifically we are analyzing the images of engineering that students construct over the course of their undergraduate engineering educations. Early on we noticed that students in their first year of study to become an engineer knew very little about the work they would be doing as an engineer. This may not be surprising but we found that even after four years studying engineering, participating in coops and internships, working as undergraduate researchers, and being involved in engineering organizations students’ images of their lives as engineers remained indistinct and vague. For some students images from the first year remained virtually unchanged into their fourth year. That is students constructed hopeful images of engineering, images with high expectations and high status. We also have an interesting asymmetry in our data; many students had vague images of the day-to-day work of engineering, but they had more vivid and extended imagery about what their lifestyles would be when they were employed as professional engineers 1.

Another asymmetry that emerged was that students identified with a particular image of engineering work, the designer, whom they recognized as an engineer whose status and distinction was regarded as higher than that of a draftsperson. In this paper we discuss how students’ images of engineering work and engineers changed over the four years of their immersion in the engineering curriculum. We provide an analysis of the origins of students’ images of engineering and what causes them to change and suggest some ways in which this imagery affects the engineering education experience. We also discuss dominant images across the four schools, showing how some images of engineering are so dominant that students who do not fit within those images must perform what we refer to as reconciling work in order to repair threats to their engineering identity.

An important part of our study has been how do students develop an identity as engineers. Our approach to identity has been shaped by both anthropological and sociological research traditions

Jocuns, A., & Stevens, R., & Garrison, L., & Amos, D. (2008, June), Students' Changing Images Of Engineering And Engineers Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--4320

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2008 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015