The project described here was a Research on the Formation of Engineering grant that just concluded. The broad purpose of this narrative research project was to explore the role of emotion as a core aspect of connected ways of knowing in engineering student learning and professional formation. The participants in this project were 21 undergraduate engineering students from a diversity of engineering disciplines, number of years in the program, their gender, and their race/ethnicity. The project has resulted in five journal articles—the following are the primary research questions in these studies and some significant results that emerged from each of these research questions:
1. How might we find a reliable way to construct ‘smooth’ stories (with attention to the structures of stories) so that we might compare trajectories of student experiences?
Using narratology as a way to do structural analysis allows us to see emergent patterns across student narratives that is independent of the specific context of that student.
2. How do emotions underpin the narratives of engineering students? What emotional trajectory do undergraduate students experience as they progress through an engineering program?
During their first year in an engineering program, participants experienced emotional turbulence—a large variability in activation (positive or negative) and valence of emotions within a short period of time. During the second year, the participants became more accepting of their identities as engineers and experienced more positive emotions. During the third year, many participants were engaging in the professional and academic sphere of engineering. In their final year, tensions and negative emotions reappeared as students began to make post-graduation plans.
3. How do student identities develop as they experience an engineering program?
The critical incidents of undergraduate engineering students have important implications for identity development. An example of this are stories of faculty and advisors recommending that students take a reduced course load and focus on their studies (giving up extracurricular activities) during their first year. This results in students understanding engineering to be a very hard major and that if one stays in engineering, they must devote all of your effort to being an engineer.
4. What are the experiences and associated emotions of engineering students during their 1st year? Are there differences in these emotions with respect to gender, race, or ethnicity?
Students from different groups demonstrated varying emotional responses to similar experiences. The variability and severity of emotions, particularly if sustained over an extended time, can have implications for student persistence in engineering programs and their overall mental health.
In this session we will provide an overview of this research project and focus on key outcomes that emerged from this study. We developed a new (to the larger field of narrative research) way of doing structural narrative analysis, and a deeper understanding of emotions present in engineering student trajectories. Finally, we began to understand the differences of experiences and their associated emotions across different genders, races, and ethnicities.
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