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The Influence of Perceived Identity Fit on Engineering Doctoral Student Motivation and Performance

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Conference

2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

Location

Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Engineering Identity

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count

15

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/28982

Download Count

147

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Paper Authors

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Blanca Miller University of Nevada, Reno

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Blanca Miller is a Computer Science & Engineering Graduate Student at the University of Nevada, Reno. Her research focus lies in engineering education across P-24. Her projects involve investigations of unplugged computer science lessons in K-12, identifying how machine learning can facilitate formative assessment, and understanding the motivation and identities of engineering students. Her education includes a minor in Mechanical Engineering, a B.S. in Secondary Education in Math, and a M.S. in Equity and Diversity from the University of Nevada, Reno.

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Marissa A Tsugawa University of Nevada, Reno

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Marissa Tsugawa is a graduate research assistant studying at the University of Nevada, Reno in the PRiDE Research Group. She is currently working towards a Ph.D. in Engineering Education. She expects to graduate May of 2019. Her research interests include student development of identity and motivation in graduate engineering environments and understanding creativity in engineering design processes.

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Jessica Nicole Chestnut North Carolina State University

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Heather Perkins North Carolina State University Orcid 16x16 orcid.org/0000-0002-8757-0545

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Heather entered the Applied Social and Community Psychology program in the fall of 2014, after completing her Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of Cincinnati. She has participated in various research projects examining the interaction between stereotypes and science interest and confidence, their influence upon womens’ performance in school and the workplace, and their presence in the media and consequences for viewers. Her primary research interest is science identity, STEM education, and participation in online communities.

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Cheryl Cass North Carolina State University

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Cheryl Cass is a teaching assistant professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at North Carolina State University where she has served as the Director of Undergraduate Programs since 2011. Her research focuses on the intersection of science and engineering identity in post-secondary and graduate level programs.

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Adam Kirn University of Nevada, Reno

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Adam Kirn is an Assistant Professor of Engineering Education at University of Nevada, Reno. His research focuses on the interactions between engineering cultures, student motivation, and their learning experiences. His projects involve the study of student perceptions, beliefs and attitudes towards becoming engineers, their problem solving processes, and cultural fit. His education includes a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, a M.S. in Bioengineering and Ph.D. in Engineering and Science Education from Clemson University.

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Abstract

This research paper explores how engineering doctoral students’ (EDS) experiences and identities influence their perceived fit in graduate programs and serve to inform their actions toward degree progress.

Few studies have explored the underlying causes of high attrition rates in engineering doctoral programs. This shortage of research has served to reify misconceptions and assumptions about graduate student abilities and what causes some students to leave engineering graduate programs. Research in non-STEM fields indicates that negative student experiences and limited opportunity to develop a disciplinary identity increase the likelihood of attrition. To begin addressing the paucity of research about EDSs’ experiences, we set out to answer the following research question: How do EDSs’ experiences influence the perceived fit of salient identities and subsequent actions toward degree progress?

Four students were interviewed using a semi-structured interview protocol developed from Identity-Based Motivation (IBM) constructs. IBM informs how students’ salient identities accessed in a given context dissuade or reinforce an individual’s identity, motivations, and perceptions of task difficulty. We employed interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) to gain in-depth insight into students’ IBMs. IPA involves repeated listening and reading of interview transcripts to construct descriptive, linguistic, and interpretive summaries of the data. Themes are then generated for each participant, followed by identification of overarching themes across participants.

We discuss one theme that emerged across each participant, “perceived sense of autonomy”. Participants indicate that a perceived sense of autonomy (i.e., level of independence) informs whether the identity embodied during an experience, their salient identity, fits within a particular social environment. Evidence reflects that EDSs can range from having high autonomy (HA) to low autonomy (LA). Pursuit of tasks where students feel that they have HA align with greater feelings of enjoyment and identity congruence. LA limits students’ willingness to pursue tasks that are often used as measures for degree progress. Vince, a first year mining EDS, expressed HA when working with his graduate group, “I think it’s pretty fun... It’s pretty much like being in Neverland… We’re the Lost Boys and we just get to go off and have fun, play around and do experiments and stuff. I think it’s pretty cool.” However, when describing the required tasks that have presented difficulty for him, writing and presentations, his perception was one of LA, “I’m not a big fan of presentations... Even worse than writing is presentations… It’s like I’m an imposter.”

EDS autonomy is an indicator that serves to reinforce (i.e., the Lost Boys having fun) or dissuade (i.e., being an imposter presenting work) salient identities. The perceived fit of these salient identities serves to to inform subsequent actions toward degree progress. Our participants’ experiences indicate that elevating students’ autonomy can improve the perceived fit in graduate programs, the quality of educational experiences, and potentially serve to lower attrition rates in doctoral programs.

Miller, B., & Tsugawa, M. A., & Chestnut, J. N., & Perkins, H., & Cass, C., & Kirn, A. (2017, June), The Influence of Perceived Identity Fit on Engineering Doctoral Student Motivation and Performance Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. https://peer.asee.org/28982

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