Asee peer logo

The Influence of Out-of-school High School Experiences on Engineering Identities and Career Choice

Download Paper |


2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Identity and Engineering: ERM Roundtable

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1552.1 - 26.1552.14



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Allison Godwin Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Allison Godwin, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Engineering Education at Purdue University. Her research focuses on increasing female enrollment in engineering, how students’ attitudes and beliefs affect their choices and their learning, and how to improve engineering education for all students – especially those from underrepresented groups. Dr. Godwin graduated from Clemson University with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and Ph.D. in Engineering and Science Education. She is the recipient of a 2014 American Society for Engineering Education Educational Research and Methods Division Apprentice Faculty Grant. She also was an NSF Graduate Research Fellow for her work on female empowerment in engineering which won the National Association for Research in Science Teaching 2015 Outstanding Doctoral Research Award.

visit author page


Gerhard Sonnert Science Education Department, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

visit author page

Gerhard Sonnert is a Research Associate at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and an Associate of the Harvard Physics Department. He received master's and doctorate degrees in Sociology from the University of Erlangen, Germany, and a Master's in Public Administration from Harvard University. One of his major research interests has been the impact of gender on science careers. This research has resulted in two books (both authored with the assistance of Gerald Holton): Who Succeeds in Science? The Gender Dimension and Gender Differences in Science Careers: The Project Access Study.

visit author page


Philip Michael Sadler Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

visit author page

Philip Sadler holds a B.S. in Physics from MIT and an Ed.D. from Harvard. He co-authored the first integrated computer and laboratory introductory calculus course in 1975. He has taught middle school mathematics, engineering, and science and both undergraduate science and graduate teaching courses at Harvard. His research interests include assessment of students' misconceptions and how they change with instruction, K-12 curriculum development, the transition to college of students who wish to purse STEM careers, and the professional development teachers. Dr. Sadler won the Journal of Research in Science Teaching Award, the AIP’s Computers in Physics Prize, the American Astronomical Society Education Prize, and the AAPT’s Millikan Medal. He holds five patents. Materials and curricula developed by Dr. Sadler are used by an estimated 15 million students every year.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Disciplinary Differences in High School Experiences and Influence on Engineering Identity and Possible SelvesFrequently in education research, students interested in engineering are treated as a monolith.Prior research shows that disciplinary differences are present in students, even early in theircollege careers. Differences include students career outcome expectations, achievementmotivation, beliefs about sustainability, high school subject-related identities, and beliefs aboutthe impact engineering can have on the world. Students' self-identification with engineering isvitally important to their recruitment and retention into engineering. Recent calls from the U.S.President have emphasized the need for one million new STEM graduates in the next decade tomaintain the country's global competitiveness. Understanding how differences in students' highschool experiences and interests can predict differences in engineering disciplines and students'identification with engineering can begin to address this need.We utilized the framework of possible selves to examine students' self-beliefs of who they arenow and who they could be in the future as predicted by high school experiences. Possibleselves represent individuals' ideas of who they might become, who they would like to become,and who they wish to avoid becoming, and thus provides a conceptual link between students'current identities, motivation, and future role identities. Understanding the future component ofstudent self-concept can provide insight into students' goals and engineering trajectories.This work focuses on addressing two research questions: 1) Are there disciplinary differences instudents' prior high school extracurricular experiences and interests? and 2) How do theseexperiences affect students' engineering identity now and in the future? To answer thesequestions, we compared students in different engineering disciplines at the start of theirengineering studies. The data for this work comes from a nationally representative survey,distributed in Fall 2013, of 15,847 students from 27 different institutions across the U.S. Byidentifying students intending to major in seven different disciplines (bio/biomedical, chemical,civil, electrical, environmental, industrial, and mechanical engineering) for a total of 2,007students interested in an engineering career, we show the variation in the type of studentsmajoring in different engineering disciplines early in their college careers.Regression analysis was used to study how students' high school experiences and interestsdiffered between engineering disciplines. Gender differences were also examined to see if aparticular interest was more or less important for women in their disciplinary choices. Anotherregression examined if these experiences predicted an engineering identity currently and in thefuture. Students who were interested in tinkering, chemistry, engaging with the natural world,and participating in science competitions were more likely to have defined engineeringperceptions now and in the future. Significant disciplinary differences were also seen forstudents engaging in a variety of high school experiences and interests. For example, chemicalengineering students were more likely than other engineers to have positively engaged withchemistry, participated in science groups or competitions, and been interested in talking aboutscience. Gender differences were found for female students in biomedical, electrical, civil,chemical, and environmental engineering disciplines.

Godwin, A., & Sonnert, G., & Sadler, P. M. (2015, June), The Influence of Out-of-school High School Experiences on Engineering Identities and Career Choice Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24889

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: © 2015 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