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Understanding Engineering Student Motivating Factors for Job Application and Selection

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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

Life After Graduation

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Angela Harris Stanford University

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Angela is currently a Fellow with the Thinking Matters program at Stanford University. Angela received her PhD in Stanford's Environmental Engineering and Science Program (Spring 2015). Angela completed her B.S. in Chemical Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology prior to coming to Stanford for her M.S. in Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Angela conducts research related to water, sanitation, and child health in developing countries. Angela has extensive experience in developing survey questionnaires and conducting structured observations at the household level as a part of research studies in Tanzania, Kenya, and Bangladesh. Alongside her work in environmental engineering, Angela also conducts research related to engineering education as part of DEL group. Currently her work related to education seeks to better understand student career choices and institutional support for students in career development and career preparation. She also works on better understanding undergraduate engineering student interests, behaviors, development, and career choices related to innovation and entrepreneurship.

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Shannon Katherine Gilmartin Stanford University Orcid 16x16

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Shannon K. Gilmartin, Ph.D., is a Senior Research Scholar at the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research and Adjunct Professor in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University. She is also Managing Director of SKG Analysis, a research consulting firm. Her expertise and interests focus on education and workforce development in engineering and science fields. Previous and current clients include the American Chemical Society, the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, California Institute of Technology, the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at California State University Fullerton, the Office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Education at Stanford University, the School of Medicine at Stanford University, and the School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

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Katherine L. Reinders


Sheri Sheppard Stanford University

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Sheri D. Sheppard, Ph.D., P.E., is professor of Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University. Besides teaching both undergraduate and graduate design and education related classes at Stanford University, she conducts research on engineering education and work-practices, and applied finite element analysis. From 1999-2008 she served as a Senior Scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, leading the Foundation’s engineering study (as reported in Educating Engineers: Designing for the Future of the Field). In addition, in 2011 Dr. Sheppard was named as co-PI of a national NSF innovation center (Epicenter), and leads an NSF program at Stanford on summer research experiences for high school teachers. Her industry experiences includes engineering positions at Detroit's "Big Three:" Ford Motor Company, General Motors Corporation, and Chrysler Corporation.

At Stanford she has served a chair of the faculty senate, and recently served as Associate Vice Provost for Graduate Education.

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There are over 100,000 engineering graduates from undergraduate programs annually within the United States. Students graduating from these programs pursue a variety of jobs, with only a subset being engineering positions. Why might an engineering student, after investing considerable resources in their engineering education, select a non-engineering job? What are the specific factors at work for engineering graduates in selecting their first professional position? This study seeks to identify recently graduated engineering students’ motivations in job applications and job selection, particularly as these motives vary by academic and demographic backgrounds.

The data for this study come from survey responses of 315 currently employed individuals who were within one year post-graduation from their undergraduate engineering program at one of 27 different institutions across the United States. A mixed methods approach was used to understand the factors influencing their career decisions based on their open- and closed- ended responses to related survey questions. First, using emergent coding, respondents’ self-reported, open-ended descriptions of their job search process that led them to accept the offer for their current employed position were categorized. Then, their open-ended responses were compared to a close-ended, ranking question of the same type, with items that were derived from a question in the National Survey of Recent College Graduates (sponsored by NSF’s Division of Science Resources Studies). Finally, respondents’ background characteristics (e.g., socioeconomic status) and undergraduate experiences (e.g., participation in an internship) were analyzed in relation to their job search and job selection processes.

Our findings reinforce that job selection is a complex process that often can be a source of anxiety and stress to students. The motivating factors for deciding which jobs to apply to, and which job to ultimately accept, vary for different students. By improving our understanding of student motivations during the job search process, employers can make adjustments to their offers in order to strengthen and diversify the engineering workforce. By knowing what motivates students, advisors can design services to support students in a successful transition from school-to-work. These findings also may be of use to students themselves, helping them see the variety of ways that engineering students pursue and consider job options.

Harris, A., & Gilmartin, S. K., & Reinders, K. L., & Sheppard, S. (2017, June), Understanding Engineering Student Motivating Factors for Job Application and Selection Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--29053

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