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What Behaviors and Characteristics Do Engineering Student Competition Team Members Associate with Leadership?

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Student and Other Views on Engineering Leadership

Tagged Division

Engineering Leadership Development Division

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1718.1 - 26.1718.19



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Paper Authors


Kim Graves Wolfinbarger University of Oklahoma

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Kim Graves Wolfinbarger is a doctoral candidate in Industrial & Systems Engineering. Her research explores leadership development among engineering student competition team members. Kim directs the Jerry Holmes Engineering Leadership Program at OU. She holds a master's degree in industrial engineering and a BBA in marketing, both from Oklahoma.

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Randa L. Shehab University of Oklahoma

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Dr. Randa L. Shehab is a professor and the Director of the School of Industrial and Systems Engineering at the University of Oklahoma. She was recently appointed as Director of the Sooner Engineering Education Center dedicated to engineering education related initiatives and research focused on building diversity and enhancing the educational experience for all engineering students. Dr. Shehab teaches undergraduate and graduate level courses in ergonomics, work methods, experimental design, and statistical analysis. Her current research is with the Research Institute for STEM Education, a multi-disciplinary research group investigating factors related to equity and diversity in engineering student populations.

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What Behaviors and Characteristics Do Engineering Student Competition Team Members Associate with Leadership?Engineering student competition teams (ECT) are promoted as incubators for the development ofleadership (Wankat, 2005), yet we know little about how leadership actually develops withinthese teams. A case study of two teams at a public university in the central U. S. was performed,with the objective of exploring leadership development at the individual and team levels. Thispaper discusses the behaviors and characteristics that students participating on those teamsassociate with leaders and leadership.The Team Leadership Framework (Burke et al., 2006) provided the basis for analysis. Implicit inthe concept of team leadership development is the development of individuals as leaders. Eachteam member possesses knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs). When individuals contributeleadership-related KSAs, leadership can develop as a result of team interactions (Day, Gronn, &Salas, 2004). Fourteen students participated in individual semi-structured interviews. Participantshad been identified by their teammates (via a questionnaire) as influential team members. Sixparticipants, including one woman, were on the “Jets” team; eight participants, including threewomen, were on the “Sharks” team. All Jets interviewed had been on the team for at least oneyear. Two of the Sharks were first-year participants. Several questions were designed to elicitrespondents’ understanding of behaviors and characteristics associated with leadership. Forexample, respondents were asked to name leaders on the team. For each person named, therespondent was asked, “What makes this person a leader?”Behaviors and characteristics described by students were compared with definitions from variousleadership constructs. Nine categories resulted from this analysis: Inspirational Motivation,Idealized Influence, Individual Consideration, Initiating Structure, Boundary Spanning,Empowerment, Problem Solving, Collaboration, and Technical Competence. Responsesindicated that project management (an element of initiating structure), treating people well(individual consideration), and setting an example of personal excellence (idealized influenceand technical competence) were valued within these teams. Other leadership behaviors were lessconsistently recognized. Collaboration was valued by the Jets but was mentioned by only halfthe Sharks, while empowerment was mentioned more often by Sharks. Within both teams,boundary spanning was associated with leadership only by high-level officers and/or the mostexperienced members.Although negative behaviors exhibited by leaders are not generally considered “leadershipbehaviors” (Denis et al., 2012), a study of leadership development within college students shouldnot ignore negative perceptions. A few respondents from both teams had prior negativeexperience with people in positions of leadership and expressed reluctance at being calledleaders themselves. These students did not want to “set [themselves] apart,” be seen as “the bigguy in the room,” or act “high horse.”Characterizing the development of individual ECT participants as leaders provides a basis forexploring team-level leadership development. Results may be useful in designing a program ofleadership assessment, training, and development for students participating in competitions andnoncompetitive team projects. ReferencesBurke, C. S., Stagl, K. C., Klein, C., Goodwin, G. F., Salas, E., & Halpin, S. M. (2006). Whattype of leadership behaviors are functional in teams? A meta-analysis. The Leadership Quarterly,17, 288-307.Day, D. V., Gronn, P., & Salas, E. (2004). Leadership capacity in teams. The LeadershipQuarterly, 15, 857–880.Denis, J.–L., Langley, A., & Sergi, V. (2012). Leadership in the plural. The Academy ofManagement Annals, 6, 211–283.Wankat, P. C. (2005). Undergraduate student competitions. Journal of Engineering Education,94, 343–347.

Wolfinbarger, K. G., & Shehab, R. L. (2015, June), What Behaviors and Characteristics Do Engineering Student Competition Team Members Associate with Leadership? Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.25054

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