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The importance of formative experiences for engineering student identity
journal contributionposted on 06.12.2017, 00:00 by K Meyers, M Ohland, A Pawley, C Christopherson
The motivation for the current study was to examine the experiences that contribute to engineering identity both in terms of educational and professional pathways; this was accomplished through both qualitative and quantitative means. A cross-sectional study of undergraduate engineering students was conducted at a medium-sized Midwestern private university. A large-scale survey of all undergraduate engineering students, ~1100, yielded responses from ~700 students during the spring of 2009. Survey questions were based on a study approach defining adulthood by Jeffrey Arnett, but specifically applied to engineering identity as a parallel but unique instrument. Engineering identity from a student perspective was assessed, both in terms of self-identification (do engineering students consider themselves to be engineers?) and identifying factors that are ‘‘necessary’’ to be considered an engineer. A qualitative inquiry followed to better inform the quantitative survey results. Individual student interviews across class levels and engineering self- identifications were conducted as a collection of case studies. While it was not surprising to find that individual student experiences contribute to an overall sense of belonging to the college, it was interesting that key experiences such as internships and undergraduate research were not found to be statistically significant predictors of engineer self-identification. Student interviews offered insight into this finding; those experiences were formative, but there is a bi-directionality to these experiences–they can be either affirming or discouraging. Students cited experiences that were positive, challenging learning opportunities as reaffirming their engineering identity as it relates to future career plans. Conversely, negative student experiences were also formative but were related to non-identification and dissuaded students from future engineering related career plans. Finally, the implications for an institution’s curricular structure as it relates to engineering identity are discussed as are suggestions for promoting multiple student experiences before graduation and formal assessment of those experiences.