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Supports And Barriers That Recent Engineering Graduates Experience In The Workplace

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Knowing our Students, Faculty, and Profession

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.1150.1 - 15.1150.20



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Paper Authors


Samantha Brunhaver Stanford University

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Samantha Brunhaver is a second year graduate student at Stanford University. She is currently working on her Masters in Mechanical Engineering. Her research interests include engineering education and design for manufacturing. She earned a BS in Mechanical Engineering at Northeastern University in 2008.

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Russell Korte University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

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Russell Korte is an Assistant Professor of Human Resource Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is currently a Fellow with the iFoundry project in the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois. His research investigates how engineering students navigate their education and how engineering graduates transition into the workplace. Additional research interests include theory, philosophy, workplace learning and performance, socialization, adult education, social psychology, and organization studies.

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Micah Lande Stanford University

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Micah Lande is a Ph.D. candidate in Mechanical Engineering and Design at the Center for Design
Research at Stanford University. He is researching how engineers learn and apply a design
process to their work. Micah is a co-Editor-in-Chief of Ambidextrous, Stanford University's
Journal in Design. His academic interests include design and engineering education, design thinking and foresight thinking, creativity and innovation, and interdisciplinarity and
multidisciplinarity in higher education. He has a B.S in Engineering from Stanford's Product Design program and has a M.A. in Education from the Stanford School of Education program in Learning, Design and Technology.

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Sheri Sheppard Stanford University

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Sheri D. Sheppard is the Burton J. and Deedee McMurtry University Fellow in Undergraduate Education, Associate Vice Provost for Graduate Education, and Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University. She is also a consulting senior scholar at the Carnegie Foundation, having directed the Preparations for the Professions Program (PPP) engineering study, and co-authored the study's report Educating Engineers: Designing for the Future of the Field (2008). Before coming to Stanford University, she held several positions in the automotive industry, including senior research engineer at Ford Motor Company's Scientific Research Lab.
She earned a Ph.D. at the University of Michigan.

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

Supports and Barriers that Recent Engineering Graduates Experience in the Workplace


One of the aims of engineering education is to prepare students for engineering in the 21st century. Yet critics of engineering education point to the lack of preparation students obtain in school. This paper examines the career supports and barriers that one cohort of recent engineering graduates experienced in the workplace. Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT) describes supports and barriers as environmental factors that individuals perceive as having the potential to either aid or hinder their pursuit of a particular career goal.1 In this study, supports and barriers are identified in the engineering departments of four U.S.-based companies. The data were gathered from semi-structured interviews with 59 newly hired engineers who had recently graduated from college. In two of the companies, Big Food Company and Small State Agency, new hires complete a rotation period in which they work in three different departments before being assigned to a permanent position and the work is mostly project management-based. In the other two companies, Big Car Company and Small Computer Company, engineers are assigned to a permanent position and do a mix of technical and project management work. The interviews from these companies were analyzed both quantitatively and qualitatively.

The analysis of interviews shows that both supports and barriers in the workplace are created by the company, by managers, and by coworkers. For example, a manager would serve as a support when she supplies needed information to the new engineer and as a barrier when she is too busy to provide feedback in a timely fashion. Many supports and barriers were found to be common across all four companies. In addition, several factors were mentioned by the new engineers as being both supports and barriers, suggesting that local circumstances and individual perspectives play a role in the experiences of new engineers as well. Finally, the data also suggest that supports and barriers may influence new engineers’ job satisfaction.

The outcome of this research is a three-pronged taxonomy meant to help companies develop greater empathy for their new hires, to help educators better inform and prepare students for the engineering workplace, and to enable students to more skillfully investigate potential employers and careers. The implications and research findings are discussed for each group.


Much of engineering education research today looks at graduates’ preparedness for the workplace as a means to evaluate engineering curricula. Research by Lattuca et al.2, Anderson et al.3, and Murray4 has assessed graduates’ preparedness from the viewpoints of seniors, faculty, department chairs, and employers. Yet, with the exceptions of Polach5, Korte et al.6, Eraut et al.7, and Tilli et al.8, few studies have sought input from the new engineers themselves. This paper bridges the gap by examining the supports and barriers that one cohort of recent engineering graduates experienced in the workplace, as told in their own words. With this knowledge, engineering programs can be improved to foster support-building and barrier-coping behaviors in

Brunhaver, S., & Korte, R., & Lande, M., & Sheppard, S. (2010, June), Supports And Barriers That Recent Engineering Graduates Experience In The Workplace Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--15709

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: © 2010 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