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Understanding The Current Work And Values Of Professional Engineers: Implications For Engineering Education

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Knowing Our Students, Faculty, and Profession

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.1297.1 - 14.1297.17



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Paper Authors

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Kevin Anderson University of Wisconsin, Madison

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Sandra Courter University of Wisconsin, Madison

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Thomas McGlamery University of Wisconsin, Madison

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Traci Nathans-Kelly University of Wisconsin, Madison

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Christine Nicometo University of Wisconsin, Madison

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Understanding the Current Work and Values of Professional Engineers: Implications for Engineering Education Key Words: engineering practice, values, identity; education implications


To better meet the needs of this century’s workplace, engineering educators must better understand the current work and values of professional engineers. However, formal research in this area is limited. In this portion of our study we interviewed practicing engineers (n=45), surveyed engineers, engineering managers and individuals with engineering backgrounds (n=280), and conducted a case study of one engineering firm. In order to better understand the epistemic frame of engineering, or what makes an engineer an engineer, this study used a grounded theory approach. This approach used the viewpoint of engineers to uncover implications for engineering education. We gained insights on (1) what engineers see as notable and as exemplifying engineering in their work, (2) what aspects of their work they value most, and (3) what they would like to be different in their work. Specifically, we found that engineers see their work as using specialized knowledge to solve problems in a constantly evolving, local and/or global, business context. Engineers value (1) solving problems for clients, (2) creatively applying their knowledge, and (3) learning new skills and concepts. Engineers also expressed that their work often involves a greater focus on managerial and business processes than the tangible engineering of solutions, and that there is insufficient emphasis on developing new skills. These findings indicate that engineering education should ensure that students work to creatively apply their knowledge to actual clients’ problems and develop significant business and communication skills. Engineers also substantiated these implications in responding to what they would have liked to have had as part of their formal undergraduate education.


Engineering practice in the United States is constantly evolving due to new technology and a changing global context. Arguably, educational practice needs to keep pace with those changes. According to the Engineer of 2020 report, unless engineering education practice change to meet the demands of the workplace, the United States will not sustain its global leadership and share of jobs in high-tech professions1. Statistics from the American Society for Engineering Education also indicate that U.S. engineering programs “are not keeping up with the country’s increasing demand for engineering talent”2. Not only is enrollment insufficient, retention of engineering students needs to improve as an estimated one third of college students who start in engineering drop out 3.

Enrollment and retention could be improved by better aligning educational practices with workplace realities. Current studies indicate that “there is a clear need for more effective integration between education and working life”4. Before that can be done, it is essential to have a firm picture of the work that engineers do today. Unfortunately, that picture is limited. “There are few reliable reports of research on engineering practice”5.

In response to this need, this study will provide insights into the questions, “What do

Anderson, K., & Courter, S., & McGlamery, T., & Nathans-Kelly, T., & Nicometo, C. (2009, June), Understanding The Current Work And Values Of Professional Engineers: Implications For Engineering Education Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--4625

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