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Understanding Engineering Students’ Professional Pathways: A Longitudinal Mixed-Methods Study

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session II

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Paper Authors


Samantha Ruth Brunhaver Arizona State University, Polytechnic campus

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Samantha Brunhaver is an Assistant Professor of Engineering in the Fulton Schools of Engineering Polytechnic School. Dr. Brunhaver recently joined Arizona State after completing her M.S. and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University. She also has a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Northeastern University. Dr. Brunhaver's research examines the career decision-making and professional identity formation of engineering students, alumni, and practicing engineers. She also conducts studies of new engineering pedagogy that help to improve student engagement and understanding.

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Holly M Matusovich Virginia Tech

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Dr. Matusovich is an Assistant Professor and Assistant Department Head for Graduate Programs in Virginia Tech’s Department of Engineering Education. She has her doctorate in Engineering Education and her strengths include qualitative and mixed methods research study design and implementation. She is/was PI/Co-PI on 8 funded research projects including a CAREER grant. She has won several Virginia Tech awards including a Dean’s Award for Outstanding New Faculty. Her research expertise includes using motivation and related frameworks to study student engagement in learning, recruitment and retention in engineering programs and careers, faculty teaching practices and intersections of motivation and learning strategies. Matusovich has authored a book chapter, 10 journal manuscripts and more than 50 conference papers.

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Ruth A. Streveler Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Ruth A. Streveler is an Associate Professor in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. Dr. Streveler has been the Principal Investigator or co-Principal Investigator of ten grants funded by the US National Science Foundation. She has published articles in the Journal of Engineering Education and the International Journal of Engineering Education and has contributed to the Cambridge Handbook of Engineering Education Research. She has presented workshops to over 500 engineering faculty on four continents. Dr. Streveler’s primary research interests are investigating students’ understanding of difficult concepts in engineering science and helping engineering faculty conduct rigorous research in engineering education.

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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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Cheryl Carrico P.E. Virginia Tech Orcid 16x16

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Cheryl Carrico is a Postdoctoral Research faculty member for Virginia Tech. Her current research focus relates to STEM career pathways (K-12 through early career) and conceptual understanding of core engineering principles. Dr. Carrico owns a research and consulting company specializing in research evaluations and industry consulting. Dr. Carrico received her B.S. in chemical engineering from Virginia Tech, Masters of Engineering from North Carolina State University, MBA from King University, and PhD in Engineering Education from Virginia Tech. Dr. Carrico is a certified project management professional (PMP) and licensed professional engineer (P.E.).

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Angela Harris Stanford University

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According to data from the National Science Foundation (NSF), nearly two-thirds of engineering bachelor’s graduates work in engineering fields immediately after college, while another 30 percent take jobs in non-engineering fields. However, prior work shows that most engineering undergraduates are “unsure” about their next career steps in the months leading up to graduation, and little is known about how they eventually choose what to do. Furthermore, while several school-related factors have been linked to engineering students’ initial career decisions (e.g., choice of institution, choice of major, participation in on-campus and off-campus activities such as co-ops), how these and other factors actively shape their choice of first job remains understudied.

To address these gaps, we designed the NSF-funded [STUDY], a three-year study aimed at understanding the process through which engineering undergraduate students explore, select, and prepare for their first positions after graduation. [STUDY] builds upon two prior NSF-funded projects, the [PRIOR STUDY 1] and the [PRIOR STUDY 2]. Specifically, [STUDY] continues the rich tradition begun in these prior studies of using multi-institutional, mixed-methods research to delineate the experiences of engineering students and early career professionals. Moreover, [STUDY] is grounded in a framework based on expectancy value theory and cognitive information processing theory which explains how students’ career-related perceptions, beliefs, and values serve to influence their choice of career plans and actions.

[STUDY] features two research components. Through surveys and interviews, we are studying engineering students longitudinally, from their junior and senior years to their first 1-2 years post-graduation, to examine how engineering students’ career development and decision-making processes unfold over time. In concert, we are interviewing faculty, staff, and administrators about the career resources available to students on these campuses. The project takes a national perspective, collecting data from six schools across the U.S. selected for their geographic, institutional, and student body diversity. We are also interested in differences in engineering students’ experiences and perspectives by discipline. A major aim for our study is to explicate both the personal and contextual (i.e., regional, institutional, disciplinary, etc.) factors which affect engineering students’ choice of first position.

[STUDY] also features a community of practice component focused on bridging research-to-practice by engaging key stakeholders at the six partner institutions in data interpretation and dissemination activities. Findings from the study will help evaluate and enhance the career services and advising available to soon-to-be-degreed engineers at these and other engineering programs and universities.

Currently in Year 2, we are analyzing our information-gathering interviews with faculty, staff, and administrators and preparing to share initial findings with stakeholders at the six schools in Fall of 2015. In addition, we are preparing to deploy the first administration of our longitudinal student survey in Spring of 2016. The full paper will report on the data collection and findings from Years 1-2 of the project, as well as provide more project background and details.

Brunhaver, S. R., & Matusovich, H. M., & Streveler, R. A., & Sheppard, S., & Carrico, C., & Harris, A. (2016, June), Understanding Engineering Students’ Professional Pathways: A Longitudinal Mixed-Methods Study Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.27097

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