As concerns about the preparation of engineers grow, so has interest in the dimensions of engineering identity. By having a thorough understanding of engineering identity, departments will be better able to produce engineers who understand their role as a member of the profession. Generally, engineering identity literature has not focused on specific disciplinary identities, instead looking at engineering as a whole. Previous literature has utilized role identity theory (e.g., Gee, 2001) and identified key dimensions of engineering identity, including one’s performance/competence and interest in engineering courses and recognition as a current/future engineer (Godwin, 2016; Godwin et al., 2013; Godwin et al., 2016).
This paper deepens our understanding of electrical and computer engineering identities. As part of research activities associated with National Science Foundation grant looking at professional formation of socio-technically minded students, we analyzed texts and documents from an electrical and computer engineering department to examine the department’s professed priorities. Using document analysis, we answered this research question: How is a department’s commitment to undergraduate engineering identity development expressed in departmental documents?
Document analysis focuses on texts to describe some aspect of the social world (Bowen, 2009). This analysis was performed with two types of departmental documents: front-facing documents (e.g., websites, newsletters) and internal documents (e.g., ABET self-studies, program evaluations) from an electrical and computing engineering department at a public research university. Analysis employed a priori and emergent coding schemas to formulate themes related to identity, performance/capability, interest, and recognition present in departmental documents (Bowen, 2009; Godwin, 2016). Specifically, we skimmed documents to ascertain inclusion status; read and coded documents in depth; and identified broader themes across documents (Bowen, 2009).
One broad theme was a lack of attention to identity; another showed emphasis on technical skills/competencies. By interrogating absences, we found that there is little attention being paid to identity development or its components in these documents. In other words, these texts do not indicate that the department is invested in supporting students’ senses of interest, performance, and recognition as electrical and computer engineers. Rather, we found that these texts emphasize the acquisition of specific concepts, skills, and competencies. Overall, analysis indicated that the department does not cultivate holistic engineering student identities. The resultant implications are by no means irrelevant—a focus on identity over specific skills could increase retention, increase student satisfaction, and produce better future engineers.
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