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Using a Values Lens to Examine Engineers' Workplace Experiences

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Professional Formation and Career Experiences

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

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Paper Authors


Samantha Ruth Brunhaver Arizona State University

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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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Benjamin David Lutz California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo Orcid 16x16

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Ben D. Lutz is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Design at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He is the leader of the Critical Research in Engineering and Technology Education (CREATE) group at Cal Poly. His research interests include critical pedagogies; efforts for diversity, equity, and inclusion in engineering, engineering design theory and practice; conceptual change and understanding; and school-to-work transitions for new engineers. His current work explores a range of engineering education design contexts, including the role of power in brainstorming activities, epistemological and conceptual development of undergraduate learning assistants, as well as the experiences of recent engineering graduates as they navigate new organizational cultures.

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Nathan E. Canney Taylor Devices, Inc.

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Dr. Canney conducts research focused on engineering education, specifically the development of social responsibility in engineering students. Other areas of interest include ethics, service learning, and sustainability education. Dr. Canney received bachelors degrees in Civil Engineering and Mathematics from Seattle University, a masters in Civil Engineering from Stanford University with an emphasis on structural engineering, and a PhD in Civil Engineering from the University of Colorado Boulder. Dr. Canney currently works as a Senior Project Manager for Taylor Devices, Inc.

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The development of a skilled and robust U.S. engineering workforce is more crucial than ever as social, environmental, and health crises unravel on a national and global stage. Yet, productivity and retention remain prominent concerns for the engineering profession. Some reports have addressed these issues by focusing on the persistence of “skills and knowledge gaps,” noting how engineers’ preparation falls short on central aspects of professional practice such as teamwork, communication, and information-seeking. While these studies suggest that enhancing engineers’ technical and professional competencies can increase their self-reliance, thereby increasing their job performance and satisfaction, accounts of under-preparedness nevertheless continue to surface.

Emerging research by the current author team and others suggests that gaps in what engineers know and can do are not the sole sources of confusion as they transition from students to professionals, and person-organizational value congruence is likely just as important in shaping engineers’ experiences within their organizations. Recent prominent examples of value incongruence between corporate leadership and employees in engineering have occurred at Amazon over warehouse safety, Facebook over its relationship with free speech, and Google over sexual harassment claims. Employees voluntarily walked out, resigned, or unionized in these cases. Yet, literature suggests that both major and minor instances of value incongruence play out in the engineering workplace often, in myriad ways. Furthermore, literature from organizational psychology demonstrates that value incongruence can be detrimental to both organizations and individuals, resulting in losses in productivity, innovation, engagement, satisfaction, and retention.

This position paper considers the values constructed and reified within engineering education and compares them to those encountered in the engineering workforce. Specifically, we critically revisit the findings from three of our own, previously published studies about practicing engineers, applying the lens of “values gaps” to explore their professional experiences and the tensions that occur in new light. Our central thesis is that interventions to improve engineers’ preparation for the workforce will be sufficient only when scholars also consider the differences in values between individuals and their employers. Whereas it might not be possible or practical to completely eliminate the gaps in engineers’ skills noted by the literature, a focus on values could better position engineers to successfully transition from school to work, authentically find their own path within engineering, and meaningfully contribute to engineering organizations and society. Illustrations and implications of this phenomenon will be discussed in the full paper.

Brunhaver, S. R., & Lutz, B. D., & Canney, N. E. (2021, July), Using a Values Lens to Examine Engineers' Workplace Experiences Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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