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The Role of Engineering Identity in Engineering Doctoral Students' Experiences

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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

Tagged Topic

Diversity

Page Count

19

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/29006

Download Count

104

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Paper Authors

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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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Marissa A. Tsugawa-Nieves 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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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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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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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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Abstract

This research paper explores how engineering doctoral students (EDSs) interpret experiences and craft engineering identities while pursuing a Ph.D.

The number of students completing engineering doctoral studies is an area of ongoing concern, as reports indicate a shortage of skilled STEM workers and systemic under-representation of marginalized groups. Developing an engineering identity has been highlighted as key to retention and achievement in engineering. In graduate programs, the establishment of an engineering identity may aid in goal formation and the development of intrinsic motivation. This qualitative project is driven by the research question: How do EDSs develop and interpret their engineering identities in the context of their graduate experiences? We use interpretive phenomenological analysis to analyze eight EDSs’ interviews about their identities throughout their graduate education. Themes at all levels — descriptive, linguistic, and conceptual — were explored for patterns within and between participants.

Two themes emerged from analysis. First is the importance of a permanent and integrated engineering identity. ‘Permanent’ refers to an identity which incorporates past and current experiences into a stable, long-term sense of self. This theme can be seen in Sean’s interview when discussing his identity as the son of a physics teacher: “When I was a kid my father took me to the physics lab... I love[d] that my dad [was] teaching a student, and everybody [was] listening to him.” Sean describes being inspired to teach because of his father, but as an international student pursuing a Ph.D. in the U.S., he also spent time grappling with words and their meanings. He calls upon these experiences when identifying as a scientist rather than an engineer: “You say master of science, not master of engineering.… You've got to be a master in science, not in engineering. Then Ph.D. ... It means the philosophy, it means you are going to figure out the pure science.” Sean relies both on his experience as a son and an English-language learner to construct and defend his engineering identity.

The second theme, that of transitional identity, describes students whose identities are conflicting and unstable, characterized by their inability to view themselves as 'true' engineers. Xena, who followed her advisor to a new institution after her Master’s, must now navigate a new environment (i.e., transition) while maintaining progress. “I feel behind in terms of planning out my academic [career]... I haven't gotten a publication out this year. I'm not going to take my qualifying [exam] this year.” The new environment also makes it difficult to build relationships, as her research takes her in new directions: “I don't have classes with engineering students… [I’m] just in my little corner working… ” These transitions isolate Xena from field resources, fragment her identity, and diminish her motivation. Sean’s experience is positive, while Xena’s is negative; these results suggest that different facets of one’s identity can be both a buffer or a burden, and that supporting the development of an integrated engineering identity will improve EDS’s performance.

Perkins, H., & Tsugawa-Nieves, M. A., & Chestnut, J. N., & Miller, B., & Kirn, A., & Cass, C. (2017, June), The Role of Engineering Identity in Engineering Doctoral Students' Experiences Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. https://peer.asee.org/29006

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