The purpose of this research study is to create assessment tools to measure how well engineering students and engineering alumni personally identify with the profession of engineering. By studying the effects of educational interventions related to professional identity we ultimately aim to increase the number of engineers by improving undergraduate retention, undergraduate success, persistence as an engineer, and post-graduation success as an engineer. Once developed, these tools and the insights gained from The College of New Jersey’s engineering curricula will be useful for other universities with engineering programs. In this study we will look at a number of curricular and extracurricular education interventions including: engineering-specific ethics lessons/case studies, lessons on professional licensure, interaction with alumni through a formal mentoring program, liberal arts coursework, preparing for, taking, and results of the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Exam, teaming experiences focused on solving open-ended engineering design problems, internship and/or undergraduate research experiences, attendance at technical seminars, career preparation including résumé preparation at various stages of undergraduate study, etc. The project will consist of two phases: (1) creation of the instruments based on existing measures and development of new measures using qualitative methods in Year 1, and (2) pilot studies designed to validate the instruments in Year 2. Formative evaluation during these phases will allow for modification of measures and timing, and may influence the delivery interventions, based on early analysis of data collected. Summative evaluation will yield the validity of the instruments that can then be applied to larger populations.
The objective of this initial study is to create and validate instruments that will be used to assess the effectiveness of this promising model. The instruments may be used in future research programs to evaluate the effectiveness of various factors postulated to influence professional development in engineering students. In particular, the project will enable the research team to investigate how a liberal arts core and a vertically integrated engineering professional curricular sequence contribute to the professional formation of engineers, how professional formation is influenced by demographic factors, and how professional formation is related to persistence and post-graduation success. Results of the planned research program provides insight into the connection between professional formation and individual characteristics that have been demonstrated elsewhere to predict persistence and post-graduation success in populations underrepresented due to gender, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. The assessment instruments developed in this study enable professional formation within these cohorts to be better understood, potentially leading to specific interventions that strengthen professional identity for these special populations. Findings in professional formation will be incorporated into TCNJ’s K-12 engineering education program, and thus impacting the professional development of future K-12 pre-engineering teachers as they learn how to foster an affinity for the engineering profession in their students. Dissemination of the results to the engineering education community will further spread the impact of the results nationally.
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