According to data from the National Science Foundation (NSF), nearly two-thirds of engineering bachelor’s graduates work in engineering fields immediately after college, while another 30 percent take jobs in non-engineering fields. However, prior work shows that most engineering undergraduates are “unsure” about their next career steps in the months leading up to graduation, and little is known about how they eventually choose what to do. Furthermore, while several school-related factors have been linked to engineering students’ initial career decisions (e.g., choice of institution, choice of major, participation in on-campus and off-campus activities such as co-ops), how these and other factors actively shape their choice of first job remains understudied.
To address these gaps, we designed the NSF-funded [STUDY], a three-year study aimed at understanding the process through which engineering undergraduate students explore, select, and prepare for their first positions after graduation. [STUDY] builds upon two prior NSF-funded projects, the [PRIOR STUDY 1] and the [PRIOR STUDY 2]. Specifically, [STUDY] continues the rich tradition begun in these prior studies of using multi-institutional, mixed-methods research to delineate the experiences of engineering students and early career professionals. Moreover, [STUDY] is grounded in a framework based on expectancy value theory and cognitive information processing theory which explains how students’ career-related perceptions, beliefs, and values serve to influence their choice of career plans and actions.
[STUDY] features two research components. Through surveys and interviews, we are studying engineering students longitudinally, from their junior and senior years to their first 1-2 years post-graduation, to examine how engineering students’ career development and decision-making processes unfold over time. In concert, we are interviewing faculty, staff, and administrators about the career resources available to students on these campuses. The project takes a national perspective, collecting data from six schools across the U.S. selected for their geographic, institutional, and student body diversity. We are also interested in differences in engineering students’ experiences and perspectives by discipline. A major aim for our study is to explicate both the personal and contextual (i.e., regional, institutional, disciplinary, etc.) factors which affect engineering students’ choice of first position.
[STUDY] also features a community of practice component focused on bridging research-to-practice by engaging key stakeholders at the six partner institutions in data interpretation and dissemination activities. Findings from the study will help evaluate and enhance the career services and advising available to soon-to-be-degreed engineers at these and other engineering programs and universities.
Currently in Year 2, we are analyzing our information-gathering interviews with faculty, staff, and administrators and preparing to share initial findings with stakeholders at the six schools in Fall of 2015. In addition, we are preparing to deploy the first administration of our longitudinal student survey in Spring of 2016. The full paper will report on the data collection and findings from Years 1-2 of the project, as well as provide more project background and details.
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