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To Change the World: Student Motivation for Pursuing a Degree in Agricultural or Biological Engineering

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Outreach, recruiting, and retention

Tagged Division

Biological & Agricultural

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Jennifer Keshwani University of Nebraska, Lincoln

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Jenny Keshwani is an Assistant Professor of Biological Systems Engineering and Science Literacy Specialist in the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She is active in promoting science and engineering education in both formal and informal settings through her research, extension, and outreach activities. Dr. Keshwani is actively engaged in several cross-disciplinary regional and national efforts related to STEM education and outreach. Most recently, she was part of a team that received NSF funding to engage youth in STEM through wearable technologies.

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Evan Curtis University of Nebraska, Lincoln

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Evan Curtis received his B.S. and M.S. in biological systems engineering from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. He is the Student Services Coordinator in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

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Demands for food, water, energy and healthcare continue to increase along with the increasing world population while the resources available to meet these demands remain limited. An innovative workforce capable of designing creative solutions to these problems is needed. Agricultural and biological engineers focus on food, water, energy and healthcare systems and will play a pivotal role in meeting these challenges. However, public awareness of these fields and their impact on society is limited. The objective of this study was to assess undergraduate student understanding of agricultural or biological engineering degree programs and identify key motivating factors to pursuing a degree/career in these fields.

Sophomore agricultural engineering and biological engineering students enrolled in a course on the engineering properties of biological materials were the focus of this study. At the beginning and end of the semester students submitted definitions in their own words to describe their chosen major (agricultural or biological engineering) and explained their motivation for pursing a degree in this field. Student work was collected throughout the semester and qualitatively analyzed to identify key themes in student motivation and understanding of the agricultural and biological engineering fields. The information gathered suggests both student definitions of their chosen major and motivations for pursuing a career in this field are closely tied to opportunities to positively impact society. This result aligns with research on millennial culture that suggests this generation desires to have a positive impact on their world and craves connection to real-world problems.

The findings of this study can guide student recruitment strategies to increase enrollment in these fields. Recruitment efforts should highlight the many ways agricultural and biological engineers positively impact the world. In addition, instructional techniques can be adapted to meet the unique characteristics and motivations of students enrolled in agricultural or biological engineering degree programs. For example, course instructors can connect theoretical course content to real-world examples. Meeting the challenges of a growing world population require growing involvement in agriculture and biological engineering. Promoting the potential of these fields to solve real-world challenges related to food, water, energy and healthcare will inspire the next generation of agricultural and biological engineers to meet these needs.

Keshwani, J., & Curtis, E. (2017, June), To Change the World: Student Motivation for Pursuing a Degree in Agricultural or Biological Engineering Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--29031

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