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What Makes an Inquisitive Engineer? An Exploration of Question-Asking, Self-Efficacy, and Outcome Expectations among Engineering Students

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Entrepreneurship and Innovation: The Student Experience

Tagged Division

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation

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Paper Authors


Sophia Lerner Pink Stanford University

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Sophia Pink is a rising junior studying engineering at Stanford University. She began conducting research in Dr. Sheri Sheppard’s Designing Education Lab in June 2016. Sophia’s academic interests include mechanical engineering, human-centered design, and social science research.

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Beth Rieken Stanford University

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Beth Rieken is a PhD Candidate at Stanford University in the Mechanical Engineering Department. She is in the Designing Education Lab advised by Prof. Sheri Sheppard. Her work focuses on fostering mindful awareness, empathy and curiosity in engineering students. Beth completed a BS in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Virginia in 2010 and a MS in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford in 2012.

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Tua A. Björklund

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Dr. Björklund focuses on supporting idea development efforts in product design, entrepreneurship and teaching in higher education. She has been a part of creating the Aalto University Design Factory, an experimentation platform for students, teachers, researchers and practitioners in Finland. Currently Dr. Björklund is a visiting Fulbright scholar at Stanford University, working at the Center for Design Research and Scandinavian Consortium for Organisational Research as a Fulbright Finland - Technology Industries of Finland Centennial Foundation and Tutkijat Maailmalle - KAUTE Foundation grantee.

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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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In order be successful, engineers must ask their clients, coworkers, and bosses questions. Asking questions can improve work quality and make the asker appear smarter. However, people often hesitate to ask questions for fear of seeming incompetent or inferior. This study investigates: what characteristics and experiences are connected to engineering students’ perceptions of asking questions?

We analyzed data from a survey of over a thousand engineering undergraduates across a nationally representative sample of 27 U.S. engineering schools. We focused on three dependent variables: question-asking self-efficacy (how confident students are in their ability to ask a lot of questions), social outcome expectations around asking questions (whether students believe if they ask a lot of questions, they will earn the respect of their colleagues), and career outcome expectations (whether they believe asking a lot of questions will hurt their chances for getting ahead at work).

We were surprised to find that question-asking self-efficacy or outcome expectations did not significantly vary by gender, under-represented minority status, and school size. However, students with high question-asking self-efficacy and outcome expectations were more likely to have engaged in four extracurricular experiences: participating in an internship or co-op, conducting research with a faculty member, participating in a student group, and holding a leadership role in an organization or student group. The number of different types of these extracurricular activities a student engaged in correlated with question-asking self-efficacy and positive outcome expectations around asking questions.

The results illustrate the relationship between extracurricular activities and students’ self-efficacy and behavior outcome expectations. The college experience is more than just formal academic classes. Students learn from experiences that occur after class or during the summer, and ideally these experiences complement class-derived skills and confidence in asking questions.

Pink, S. L., & Rieken, B., & Björklund, T. A., & Sheppard, S. (2017, June), What Makes an Inquisitive Engineer? An Exploration of Question-Asking, Self-Efficacy, and Outcome Expectations among Engineering Students Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--29118

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