Identity is an increasingly popular lens for studying recruitment and retention in engineering. Most of the research conducted on modeling student development of engineering identity and related contributing factors has examined high school students and college freshmen. However, many engineering students drop out in the first two years, as they continue to shape or abandon their engineering identities throughout the course of their college careers. This paper explores engineering identity differences between lower and upper division undergraduate engineering students in mechanical and civil engineering at a large public institution (n=563). In this preliminary analysis, student responses were classified based on the designation of the course in which they were completed: lower division courses typically include freshmen and sophomores early in their engineering curricula, while upper division courses typically include juniors and seniors and require lower division courses as pre-requisites. This designation is established by the institution to distinguish gateway courses from major sequence coursework, since students are admitted directly to their specific engineering majors as first-year students. The survey borrowed previously validated scales for physics, math and science identity to construct a survey that measures engineering identity directly. This survey included scales to measure both math and physics identity, multi-item scales thought to construct engineering identity (including direct measures), and background demographic information on the participants. During analysis, t-tests were used to compare differences in survey responses between the upper and lower division students, as well as between the mechanical and civil engineering students. Exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis resulted in 23 factors. The t-tests suggest that upper division students exhibited a higher physics recognition by others while lower division students exhibited a higher math interest, personal agency related to authority, and global agency related to caring about others. However, the upper and lower division students did not exhibit significantly different responses to the engineering identity questions, and future work should separate data by student’s year to further differentiate identity at each year. As engineering undergraduate identity research continues, it will be important to understand how engineering identity develops over time and in students who persist to complete an engineering bachelor’s degree. Examining the factors that contribute to successful identity development can be used to increase engineering retention rates by developing solutions that provide freshmen and sophomores opportunities to identify themselves as engineers at an earlier stage.
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