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Working Full Time and Earning an Engineering Degree: Wellbeing in a Co-Op-Based Engineering Program

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2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Minneapolis, MN

Publication Date

August 23, 2022

Start Date

June 26, 2022

End Date

June 29, 2022

Conference Session

ERM: Mental Health and Wellness

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Catherine Spence Minnesota State University, Mankato

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Luke Nyberg

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Justine Chasmar Minnesota State University, Mankato

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Jodi Nelson Minnesota State University, Mankato


Marissa Tsugawa Utah State University - Engineering Education

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Marissa Tsugawa is an assistant professor in the Department of Engineering Education at Utah State University. Their research interest is in neurodivergence and how it manifests in engineering education. Past work includes exploring motivation and identity of engineering graduate students, women of color's experiences on engineering teams, and experiences around LGBTQ+ advocacy in STEM. Dr. Tsugawa uses mixed-method approaches with a social constructivist paradigm.

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The purpose of this research paper is to describe how stress manifests in undergraduate engineering students who are working in paid engineering positions while completing their upper-division coursework, through the analysis of reflective prompts on wellbeing, and engineering belongingness. Previous research has identified the culture of “suffering and shared hardship” where heavy workloads and stressful situations are expected in engineering programs and engineering as a discipline. Stress, specifically feelings of being overwhelmed with workload, has far reaching implications for an individuals’ wellbeing beyond academic performance.

We focus on the frameworks of self-determination theory, engineering belonging, identity, to better understand undergraduate engineering students’ wellbeing. Our population for this study is approximately 70 students at a large, public, primarily undergraduate institution in an off-campus co-op based learning program. In this upper-division program, students complete their BS in Engineering in five semesters after completing their lower division coursework at community colleges across the nation. For four semesters, students complete technical, professional, and design coursework while working as paid engineering interns. As part of their coursework, students regularly complete reflections on technical, professional, and design topics.

The reflections of 24 undergraduate engineering students on health, wellbeing, and belongingness were analyzed using an open coding, thematic approach. Each student has completed 3 reflections on health, wellbeing, and belongingness. The results identify stressors and coping strategies utilized by engineering co-op students. Strategies such as establishing a stable routine is identified as a critical coping mechanism. Further connections of wellbeing and belonging are described. Students identified relatedness as key to feelings of belonging in engineering and imposter syndrome as a key barrier to belongingness.

Spence, C., & Nyberg, L., & Chasmar, J., & Nelson, J., & Tsugawa, M. (2022, August), Working Full Time and Earning an Engineering Degree: Wellbeing in a Co-Op-Based Engineering Program Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN. 10.18260/1-2--41119

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