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The Development of Critical Engineering Agency, Identity, and the Impact on Engineering Career Choices

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Engineering Identity 1

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.1184.1 - 23.1184.14



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Paper Authors

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Allison Godwin Clemson University Orcid 16x16

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Geoff Potvin Clemson University

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Zahra Hazari Florida International University

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The Development of Critical Engineering Agency, Identity, and the Impact on Engineering Career ChoicesHigh school students do not typically get full exposure to science practice, let alone engineeringpractice, so the choice of an engineering discipline upon entrance to college is often a partly informeddecision. Additionally, the coursework to prepare for various physical science careers is oftenundifferentiated until well into college. A students' self-ascribed identity coupled with anunderstanding of their career choices as a path to fulfilling their goals may be one way to understandthe choice of engineering.This paper explores the agency and identity of engineering students through the lens of criticalengineering agency as a first step in the development of an affective model for the choice ofengineering in college. Distributed in the fall semester of 2011, the nationally-representativeSustainability and Gender in Engineering (SaGE) survey was completed by 6772 college students (55%female) across the United States who were enrolled in first-year English courses. The topics includedin this survey covered students' experiences in their last high school science classes, beliefs aboutengineering and sustainability, as well as demographics and students' prior academic performance.Critical engineering agency as a framework leverages students' understanding of engineering processes,the skills and modes of inquiry associated with engineering content, self-identification as having certainexpertise in engineering, and the ability of engineering as a discipline to affect the world. Thedevelopment of critical engineering agency may lend to the development of students’ professionalidentity. Identity is assessed using four measurable dimensions: students’ beliefs about theirperformance, competence, recognition by others, and interest. These four aspects richly capture anindividual's identity and can be used to assess an engineering identity specifically in relation to aspectsof critical agency.An exploratory factor analysis was performed to elucidate measures of personal agency and globalagency. Personal agency relates to a student's perception of being able to change his/her immediateworld while global agency relates to his/her perception of affecting change in a broader, more abstractsense. A confirmatory factor analysis verified these constructs, including math, physics, and generalscience identity (with recognition, interest, and performance/competence sub-components of each).Utilizing the three identity constructs and the two agency constructs, a regression model was used toevaluate their predictive power for the choice of engineering.The results indicated that the combination of a strong math and science identity paired with highpersonal agency lead to the choice of engineering. While students who pursue science and engineeringhave similar high school science experiences, engineering students are distinguishable through theirparticularly elevated math identities and sense of global agency. These results indicate that thepreparation and recruitment of future engineers would be improved by focusing on the aspects ofengineering which are relevant to students' sense of global agency and incorporate both math andscience interests and experiences.

Godwin, A., & Potvin, G., & Hazari, Z. (2013, June), The Development of Critical Engineering Agency, Identity, and the Impact on Engineering Career Choices Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22569

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