S4-CT5-3 - What is Engineering? Learning from New Graduates to Expand the Image of Engineering.

3. Research Full Paper
Lena Gumaelius1 , Marie Paretti2
1 KTH, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden
2 Virginia tech, VA, USA

If we want to educate engineers for sustainable development, then we need to help them develop an understanding of engineering work that positions sustainable development at the core of our field. This full research paper will contribute to a better understanding on how engineering work is currently perceived and experienced by practicing professionals. Over the past few decades, quite a few studies have looked at how engineering students identify themselves with the engineering field [1-3]; however, few studies have looked at how new engineers define engineering work.

To address this gap, we draw on data collected from a large multi-institution project, the Capstone To Work (C2W) project, that followed students through repeated interviews from four U.S. institutions from graduation through their first year of work.  The study recruited 139 participants prior to graduation, 72 remained active participants throughout their first year. Two of the questions asked were particularly interesting for this study, namely, how the participant defines engineering, and what skills they think they need as a professional engineer. This paper provides a thematic analysis of the participants’ responses in their pre-graduation and 12-month interviews to address the question, “How do recent engineering graduates describe engineering work?” 

To analyze the data, we employed three rounds of coding: 1) an initial emergent round to identify common ideas and help select a meaningful framework for subsequent analysis, 2) a priori coding drawing on an established framework, and 3) emergent coding of the segments within the a priori framework to identify themes. The initial coding process found that the results aligned with previous literature on how students identify with the engineering profession [1-3] as most themes that emerged can be identified as important aspects of engineering work also in other studies.  In the second round, we turned to the framework offered by Sinek [4]; this framework, developed in the context of marketing research, focuses on why, how, and what. Our findings thus present participants’ definitions of engineering in light of three major themes, ‘Why do we conduct engineering?’, ‘How is engineering conducted?’, and ‘What is engineering?’.  Most of the participant responses fell into the “how” theme and focused on problem-solving and design and thus echoing the prominent cultural narratives about engineering. But based on the findings here, we argue that engineering education would benefit from focusing more on the why-question when talking about engineers’ role in society, both to better educate holistic engineers and to more effectively reach a wider audience.

[1] J.R. Morelock, A systematic literature review of engineering identity: definitions, factors, and interventions affecting development, and means of measurement, European Journal of Engineering Education, 42, (6), 2017
[2] M.C. Loui, Ethics and the Development of Professional Identities of Engineering Students, Journal of Engineering of Education, 94, (4), 2005
[3] J. W. Pritchard and M. Mina, The Dynamic Image of the Engineer, IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE), Oklahoma City, 2013
[4] S. Sinek, Start with why: how great leaders inspire everyone to take action, New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2011