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Studying the Formation of Engineers: A Case Study of a Higher-education Learning Ecology

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Preparing Engineering Students for Their Professional Practice

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Russell Korte George Washington University

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Russell Korte is an Associate Professor of Human and Organizational Learning at The George Washington University. Dr. Korte studies the socio-cultural systems in the professions and organizations, along with the effects of these systems on learning and performance in school, business, and industry. This work specifically focuses on the professional socialization of engineering students, faculty, practicing engineers, medical students, and teachers, as well as the entrepreneurial efforts on innovators to change organizations. Prior to GWU, Korte was at Colorado State University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where he helped design and implement an innovative first year engineering program. Korte has over 15 years of experience in marketing and advertising, including the introduction of new products for various clients, and he started his own consulting company 20 years ago. Additional research interests include theory, philosophy, social science, workplace learning and performance, entrepreneurship, socialization, professional education, and organization studies.

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Saniya Leblanc George Washington University

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Saniya LeBlanc is an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at The George Washington University. Her research goals are to create next-generation energy conversion technologies with advanced materials and manufacturing techniques. Previously, she was a research scientist at a startup company where she created research, development, and manufacturing characterization solutions for thermoelectric technologies and evaluated the potential of new power generation materials. Dr. LeBlanc also served in Teach for America and taught high school math and physics in Washington, DC. Dr. LeBlanc obtained a PhD in mechanical engineering with a minor in materials science at Stanford University where she was a Diversifying Academia Recruiting Excellence fellow, a Sandia Campus Executive fellow, and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research fellow. She was a Churchill Scholar at University of Cambridge where she received an MPhil in engineering, and she has a BS in mechanical engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology. In 2018, the American Society of Engineering Education named Dr. LeBlanc one of its “20 Under 40 High-achieving Researchers and Educators,” and she received the National Science Foundation CAREER award in 2020.

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The development of professional engineers is one of the aims of engineering education, relies on the efforts of engineering students, faculty, and employers. Current research on engineering competencies needed for practice in the workplace generally focuses on the experiences of practicing engineers. This study builds on this work by including the perspectives of engineering faculty about teaching engineering, as well as the perspectives and beliefs of engineering students about preparing for the workplace. The overall question of the research was, “What and how do engineering students learn about working in the energy sector?” Additional questions asked practicing engineers, “What is important to learn about your work and how did you learn that when you started in this industry? For engineering faculty, we asked, “What is important for students to learn as they prepare for careers in the energy industry?” Triangulating these three samples would help us better understand the nature of the engineering students’ learning about work by exploring the connections and disconnections between engineering education and engineering practice. The aim was to map out the complex ecosystem of professional learning across the contexts of engineering education and practice.

The theoretical framework guiding this study is based on theories of social learning, activity theory, and practice theory. The core concept framing this study is the development of engineering competence from the education of engineering students and the practical learning of newly hired engineers on the job. Initial findings of this work-in-progress describe the nature of instruction and learning in higher education and learning in the workplace, along with comparisons and contrasts between the two. We have initially mapped the learning ecosystem in the workplace based on in-depth, qualitative interviews with 12 newly hired engineers in an energy company. Also, we are analyzing interviews with two managers in the company and three other experienced leaders in the energy industry. Additionally, we are analyzing and mapping the learning and experiences of students studying energy engineering and the instructional goals of engineering faculty teaching and mentoring these students. The map of the higher education ecosystem will connect with the workplace ecosystem to portray a more longitudinal map of the learning and development of professional competence of engineering students preparing for their careers in the energy sector.

The findings of the analysis of the workplace ecosystem highlighted the importance of the social and relational systems in the workplace, while very preliminary indications from the educational context (students and faculty) indicate initial awareness of the social context of energy practice with less awareness of the socialization process. There are also indications of the nature of important cultural differences between higher education and industry. We continue to collect data and work on the analysis with the aim of mapping out the larger learning and experience ecosystem leading to professional competence.

Korte, R., & Leblanc, S. (2021, July), Studying the Formation of Engineers: A Case Study of a Higher-education Learning Ecology Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--37779

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