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Will I Succeed In Engineering? Using Expectancy Value Theory In A Longitudinal Investigation Of Students’ Beliefs

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

SPECIAL SESSION: Describing the Engineering Student Learning Experience Based on CAEE Findings: Part 2

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.1403.1 - 13.1403.13



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Paper Authors


Holly Matusovich

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Ruth Streveler Purdue University

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Heidi Loshbaugh Colorado School of Mines

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Ronald Miller Colorado School of Mines

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Barbara Olds Colorado School of Mines

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

Will I Succeed in Engineering? Using Expectancy-Value Theory in a Longitudinal Investigation of Students’ Beliefs


This multi-case study qualitatively and inductively examines undergraduate engineering students’ expectancies for success as engineers as well as how these expectancies change from freshmen through senior years at a public technical institution in the western United States. The theoretical framework is expectancy-value theory, developed by Eccles, Wigfield and their colleagues, which suggests that achievement-related choices result from the intersection of an individual’s expectancy for success in a given situation and the value they assign to success in that situation. Longitudinal data analysis, based on semi-structured interviews conducted over four years with four students (two male and two female), addresses the following research questions: How do students characterize success in their given engineering field? How do these characterizations develop and change with time? Do students believe they have these characteristics that they define as important to success? Results show success beliefs do change over the four years. First-year students give generic responses that are not specific to engineering. By the third and fourth year, students who have interned have: 1) more specific, concrete beliefs about success that are grounded in personal, authentic experiences, and 2) can more accurately assess their abilities citing specific evidence. Additionally, the data demonstrate that students who lack confidence in skills they perceive to be important to successful engineers can still have a positive expectancy of success in engineering. The results generally support Eccles’ model with one modification.


Engineering students have been described as “dogged”. 1 Students who succeed in engineering studies are called “persisters”. 2 Engineering itself is described as having a “meritocracy of difficulty”. 3 Based on these descriptions (and perhaps the testimonials of engineering students everywhere) earning an engineering degree is viewed as a challenging undertaking. So what drives engineering students to continue to navigate the difficult path? Many researchers have asked this question as evidenced by an exceptionally large number of literature citations containing the terms “engineer” and “motivation”. Yet the question remains uncertain. The expectancy-value framework proposed by Eccles 4 has the potential to enlighten persistence choices.

As defined by Schunk, Pintrich and Meece, “Motivation is the process whereby goal-directed activity is instigated and sustained.” 5 Motivational constructs have long been studied in attempts to explain achievement related behaviors especially with regard to academic settings. In particular, expectancy-value theory as proposed by Eccles and her colleagues, has been shown to contribute to task engagement and persistence decisions such as intentions to continue with a particular course of study or pursue a certain major. 4, 6

Eccles and her colleagues first formally proposed the expectancy-value model of achievement motivation in the context of a National Institute of Education 7 study focusing on gender

Matusovich, H., & Streveler, R., & Loshbaugh, H., & Miller, R., & Olds, B. (2008, June), Will I Succeed In Engineering? Using Expectancy Value Theory In A Longitudinal Investigation Of Students’ Beliefs Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3593

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