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Students' Conceptions Of Their Engineering Discipline: A Word Association Study

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2000 Annual Conference


St. Louis, Missouri

Publication Date

June 18, 2000

Start Date

June 18, 2000

End Date

June 21, 2000



Page Count


Page Numbers

5.566.1 - 5.566.9



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Paper Authors

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Jennifer Temple

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Cynthia Atman

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Jennifer Turns

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

Session 1330

Students’ Conceptions of their Engineering Discipline: A Word Association Study Jennifer Turns, Jennifer Temple, and Cynthia J. Atman Center for Engineering Learning and Teaching Industrial Engineering University of Washington


A goal of engineering education is to prepare students for professional practice by helping students acquire important knowledge and skills as well as an overall schema of engineering practice. In this paper, we report on an exploratory study to investigate civil engineering students’ schemas of civil engineering. In our study, 30 graduating civil engineering students completed a word association task using the probe “civil and environmental engineering.” In this paper, we describe and interpret some results from this experiment, focusing on the relationships of student’s schemas to the engineering schema implicit in the new ABET learning outcomes.


A goal of engineering education is to prepare students for professional practice. This preparation involves helping students acquire the skills, knowledge, and attitudes associated with being a professional engineering practitioner. In a typical engineering curriculum, students begin acquiring the knowledge, skills, and attitudes through course experiences. Additionally, students acquire knowledge, skills, and attitudes outside the classroom through work experiences, mentoring relationships, undergraduate research experiences, and other opportunities.

As engineering educators, we hope that students will be able to integrate lessons from these experiences. However, this may not be the case. Concern that engineering school graduates are not sufficiently prepared for professional practice has led to calls for engineering education reform and reports on how this can be carried out [1, 2]. One of the most prominent results of these engineering education reform activities has been the changes in accreditation standards for engineering programs. Specifically, ideas about the nature of engineering, and the skills and knowledge of a proficient engineer, led to the identification of eleven ABET learning outcomes [3].

Yet, being prepared for professional practice is more than being competent in each of the areas identified by the eleven ABET learning outcomes. The professional engineering practitioner is one who understands how each of these skill and knowledge areas is related to engineering activity. This suggests that the eleven learning outcomes embodied in the new ABET accreditation standards represent the components of a schema of engineering practice, where schema refers to the set of ideas and relationships among ideas that define a concept [4, 5].

Temple, J., & Atman, C., & Turns, J. (2000, June), Students' Conceptions Of Their Engineering Discipline: A Word Association Study Paper presented at 2000 Annual Conference, St. Louis, Missouri. 10.18260/1-2--8723

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