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Understanding the Perceived Impact of Engineers’ Leadership Experiences in College

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Literature and Research Perspectives on Engineering Leadership Development

Tagged Division

Engineering Leadership Development

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


William J. Schell IV P.E. Montana State University Orcid 16x16

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William J. Schell holds a Ph.D. in Industrial and Systems Engineering – Engineering Management from the University of Alabama in Huntsville and M.S. and B.S. degrees in Industrial and Management Engineering from Montana State University (MSU). He is Associate Professor in Industrial and Management Systems Engineering and Associate Director of the Montana Engineering Education Research Center at MSU with research interests in engineering education and the role of leadership and culture in process improvement. His research is supported by the NSF and industry and has received numerous national and international awards. He is an elected Fellow of the American Society for Engineering Management and serves as an Associate Editor for both the Engineering Management Journal and Quality Approaches in Higher Education. Prior to his academic career, Schell spent 14 years in industry where he held leadership positions focused on process improvement and organizational development.

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Bryce E. Hughes Montana State University Orcid 16x16

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Bryce E. Hughes is an Assistant Professor in Adult and Higher Education at Montana State University, and holds a Ph.D. in Higher Education and Organizational Change from the University of California, Los Angeles, as well as an M.A. in Student Development Administration from Seattle University and a B.S. in General Engineering from Gonzaga University. His research interests include teaching and learning in engineering, STEM education policy, and diversity and equity in STEM.

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Brett Tallman P.E. Montana State University

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By Brett Tallman, (Montana State University). I am currently a Masters student in Education, concurrently researching engineering leadership as part of my PhD program. My former adventures include mechanical engineering (I am a P.E. in MT), seminary, teaching (high school math), and biking. You can find more of my engineering education work at or on my YouTube channel.

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In order to lead the social process required to solve society’s grandest challenges and ensure that the capabilities of an expanded engineering workforce are successfully harnessed, new engineers must be more than just technical experts—they must also be technical leaders. Greater numbers of engineering educators are recognizing this need and establishing engineering leadership certificates and minors through centers at universities throughout the country. While the implementation of these offerings is a step forward, most programs tend to focus on leadership as a set of skills or experiences bolted onto a traditional engineering education with limited formal evidence of the impact these experiences have on student development.

The purpose of this study is to test the effect of experiences engineering students have in leadership roles on their perceived gains in leadership skills, using a national dataset. The framework guiding this study is a model for engineering leadership identity constructed from Lave and Wenger’s communities of practice model and Komives et al.’s model for leadership identity development (LID) which recognizes that the engineering formation process is, at its core, an identity development process. Engineering leadership is theorized to develop from peripheral participation in engineering communities of practice in ways that promote students’ leadership development. Specifically, undertaking leadership roles in curricular and co-curricular engineering activities develops students’ sense of engineering leadership identity, which results in their recognition of gains in different leadership skills.

The data for this study come from the 2015 administration of the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), overseen by the Center for Postsecondary Research at Indiana University. The NSSE is administered to a random sample of first- and fourth-year students, and focuses on curricular and co-curricular student engagement. In 2015, NSSE included a pilot module to assess leadership experiences at 21 participating institutions. The overall sample includes 2607 students who held a leadership role, among whom are 90 engineering students. The dependent variables for this study are a set of eight items prompting students to indicate the extent to which participation in a leadership role contributed to development of different leadership skills. This study employs multiple regression to test the relationships among leadership related experiences and eight leadership skill outcomes for engineering students.

Significant results across the eight regression models paint a complex portrait regarding factors that affect gains in leadership skills for engineering students. For example, receiving formal leadership training is a significant positive predictor of only three of the leadership outcomes explored in this work: thinking critically and analytically, working effectively with others, and continuing leadership after college. These results can be utilized by educators engaged in Engineering Leadership education to tailor their program experiences and better achieve the desired educational outcomes.

Schell, W. J., & Hughes, B. E., & Tallman, B. (2018, June), Understanding the Perceived Impact of Engineers’ Leadership Experiences in College Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--31180

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