This research paper describes the recent development of items to measure post-secondary students’ engineering identity. Engineering identity is a particular type of role identity that students authoring during their experiences in an engineering community of practice, typically in college. Engineering identity has been shown as a significant indicator of educational and professional persistence in multiple quantitative and qualitative studies. These prior investigations of engineering identity have focused on whether students consider or see themselves as an engineer and the culture and qualities that students cite are needed to be an engineer. Other work has focused on the discourse students use to develop and identify as engineers in practice. However, these studies have not focused on the internal states that impact students’ perceptions of their own engineering role identity.
Measures of subject-related role identities in physics and math have been developed from research on the underlying constructs of identity in science education. The items for these measures capture three constructs of identity: students’ interest in the subject, students’ feeling of recognition by others, and students’ beliefs about their performance/competence in the subject area. In prior studies with late secondary and early post-secondary students, participants did not distinguish between performance beliefs (e.g., believing that they can do well in a particular subject) and competence beliefs (e.g., believing that they can understand a particular subject); therefore, performance/competence beliefs are measured as a single construct. These validated measures have been successful in predicting STEM career choices including physics, math, and engineering. Based on these measures of identity, literature on engineering identity, and my prior work on understanding engineering choice and belongingness through students’ science and math identities at the transition from high school to college, I developed a set of new engineering identity measures that capture and overall identification as an engineer, future engineering career identification, and students’ engineering-related interest, recognition, and performance/competence beliefs.
I conducted a pilot survey of 371 first-year engineering students at three institutions within the U.S. during the spring semester of 2015. An exploratory factor analysis (EFA) was performed to examine the underlying structure of the piloted questions about students’ engineering identity. The measures loaded on three separate constructs that were consistent with the hypothesized constructs of interest, performance/competence and recognition.
The developed items were used in a subsequent study deployed in the fall semester of 2015 that measured more than 2500 first-year engineering students’ attitudes and beliefs at four institutions within the U.S. The data on engineering identity measures from this second survey were analyzed using confirmatory factor analysis (CFA). The results indicated that the developed measures do extract a significant portion of the average variance in the latent constructs and the internal consistency of the measures (Cronbach’s α) falls within the acceptable and better range. The development of these items provides ways for engineering education researchers to more deeply explore the underlying self-beliefs in students’ engineering identity formation through quantitative measures with strong evidence for validity.
Are you a researcher? Would you like to cite this paper?
Visit the ASEE document repository at
for more tools and easy citations.