This paper presents the results of a study conducted at Montana State University to measure the pro-social value systems of electrical engineering students. Research from the field of social psychology has shown that student motivation is directly related to subjective task value. The “value” of a task refers to how important, useful, or enjoyable the student perceives the activity is to them. There are different types of values such as attainment (importance for identity), intrinsic (enjoyment or interest), cost (effort), and utility (relevance). In our study, we focus on the often overlook component of utility value, which is communal, or pro-social value. Pro-social value describes how important the task is to helping others and/or benefiting society. This type of value system is important for two reasons. First, with the ubiquitous nature of technology in the modern world, the consequence of engineering decisions can have a devastating impact on society, often in the aggregate over time. Embedding the consideration of societal impact in the engineering decision making process can have a significant impact on items such as sustainability and creating technology that serve all constituents of our society. Second, it has been shown that women tend to have high levels of pro-social value and are more likely to choose careers that offer opportunities to work with and help others. Since engineering is a profession that is often portrayed as one that only provides opportunity for personal wealth and prestige, it is stereotyped as one that lacks pro-social value affordance. This may contribute to the sever underrepresentation of women working in the field, thus steps to more accurately highlight how engineering is a profession that exists to serve and benefit society could attract more women into the field. Our study is additionally motivated by the fact that researchers have shown that freshman engineering students actually possess higher levels of pro-social value than when they are seniors. This means that something in our engineering curriculums is reinforcing the stereotype that engineering does not benefit society. This paper will discuss the study design to measure student values on engineering students and the results obtained on electrical engineering students in freshman and senior courses. The analysis of the data reveille a variety of interesting findings including that both females and males enter engineering programs with high levels of pro-social value and that pro-social value is a predictor of experience of interest. Experience of interest is a predictor of persistence intentions, meaning that increasing pro-social value can improve persistence and retention of all students. Finally, our data also shows the same trend that pro-social value decreases between the freshman and seniors.
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