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Work in Progress: Initial Interviews to Understand the Formation of Engineering Communities of Practice and Identity during the First Year

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

First-Year Programs: Work in Progress Postcard Session

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Soundouss Sassi Mississippi State University

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Soundouss Sassi is a Ph.D. student in Engineering Education at Mississippi State University. Her advisor is Dr. Jean Mohammadi Aragh. In 2016 she earned a Master in Aerospace Engineering from the same university. Prior to that, she earned a Bachelor in Aerospace Engineering from the International University of Rabat (UIR)

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Abigail Clark Ohio State University Orcid 16x16

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Abigail Clark is currently a Ph.D. student in the Department of Engineering Education at The Ohio State University. She is currently advised by Dr. Rachel Kajfez, and is part of the RIME collaborative ( Her research interests include engineering identity development in K12 students, engineering education in informal settings, and women’s experiences in the engineering field. Prior to coming to Ohio State, Abigail worked as a researcher at Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, OH. She holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Ohio Northern University.

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Jane Petrie Ohio State University


Rachel Louis Kajfez Ohio State University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Rachel Louis Kajfez is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering Education at The Ohio State University. She earned her B.S. and M.S. degrees in Civil Engineering from Ohio State and earned her Ph.D. in Engineering Education from Virginia Tech. Her research interests focus on the intersection between motivation and identity of undergraduate and graduate students, first-year engineering programs, mixed methods research, and innovative approaches to teaching.

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Mahnas Jean Mohammadi-Aragh Mississippi State University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Jean Mohammadi-Aragh is an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Mississippi State University. Dr. Mohammadi-Aragh investigates the use of digital systems to measure and support engineering education, specifically through learning analytics and the pedagogical uses of digital systems. She also investigates fundamental questions critical to improving undergraduate engineering degree pathways. . She earned her Ph.D. in Engineering Education from Virginia Tech. In 2013, Dr. Mohammadi-Aragh was honored as a promising new engineering education researcher when she was selected as an ASEE Educational Research and Methods Division Apprentice Faculty.

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This Work in Progress paper describes interviews with first-year engineering (FYE) students conducted as part of a multi-year collaborative research project that focuses on understanding factors that impact undergraduate engineering community and identity development. Students can pursue a multitude of pathways to earn an engineering diploma. For example, at one institution a student may enroll in a common FYE two-course sequence, while at another institution a student may enroll in a single discipline-specific FYE course. Beyond differences in FYE course structure, timing, and content, other FYE experiences shape students’ unique pathways. For example, a student may transfer from a different institution, participate in an engineering living learning community, or complete an FYE experience in a department different than the original major. Regardless of the pathway, engineering students encounter different experiences in the pursuit of their engineering degrees. This longitudinal project will aid the engineering education community in understanding how various FYE pathways and experiences affect the formation of engineering communities and students’ individual engineering identity. To theoretically frame our work, we use Wenger’s community of practice framework and its connection to situated learning, which includes identity as a key component. Our research builds on past engineering education research that used the community of practice framework by applying the framework to FYE and specifically focusing on the impacts related to identity development. Three sets of interviews will be conducted for this work; however, this paper will focus on only the first set. Students at two 4-year institutions and one regional campus are the focus of this paper. Institution 1 uses a direct matriculation approach with introduction courses required by all majors, and Institution 2 and 3 use a pre-major with a common FYE structure. Interviews were conducted with 12 students from Institution 1, 14 from Institution 2, and three from Institution 3 in Spring 2018. Participants had varying backgrounds and demographics (e.g., transfer students, regional campus students, students from different engineering majors, students from common first year programs, and students from discipline-specific programs). The students were from different races and ethnicities (e.g., Hispanic, white, African American, and Asian students). Eleven participants were female and 18 were male. During the initial interviews, students were asked questions including: 1) What kinds of groups did you associate with during your first year? 2) In what ways are you connected to these groups? 3) What was your greatest struggle during your first year? 4) Are you an engineer? Our semi-structured interview protocol allowed follow-on questions to help understand how described FYE experiences impacted the ways in which participants built their engineering communities and developed their engineering identities. This paper provides an introduction to our participants, and to the various engineering pathways they have pursued. Our analysis will identify critical experiences that have supported the participants as they have started to form engineering communities and begun to develop their individual engineering identities. While we continue to observe community and identity development over the next three years, these initial interviews provide a principal data point for each student’s experience and the communities formed during the student’s first year.

Sassi, S., & Clark, A., & Petrie, J., & Kajfez, R. L., & Mohammadi-Aragh, M. J. (2019, June), Work in Progress: Initial Interviews to Understand the Formation of Engineering Communities of Practice and Identity during the First Year Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33632

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