Working Effectively with Confucian Engineers: Sociopolitical Contexts, Cultures of Engineering Practice, and Collaborative Strategies

Qin Zhu, Purdue University


This dissertation was inspired by two tensions observed in the extant literature on engineering practice and engineering education. On one hand, given the increasingly significant role of China globally, there remains a surprising lack of studies in the extant literature examining the everyday practice of Chinese engineers. On the other hand, many prior studies related to global competency in the engineering education literature tend to employ a decontextualized approach that separates efforts to define and assess global competency from specific cross-cultural contexts, as well as the context of engineering/technical work. ^ In contrast, this dissertation attempts to examine how Chinese engineers do their work and identify ways to more effectively work with them. In particular, this study addresses three main research objectives: (1) identify the broader sociopolitical contexts in which Chinese engineering is practiced, and in which Chinese engineers are educated and develop their professional identities, (2) make “visible” the everyday work of Chinese engineers, including by revealing the cultural values embedded in their work practices and how their decision-making is connected to broader sociopolitical contexts, and (3) identify and conceptualize strategies Chinese engineers find effective and ineffective for addressing typical cross-cultural work situations, including by investigating how such strategies may be related to cultural values. ^ To achieve these research objectives, this dissertation employed multiple methods to collect data, including semi-structured interviews, scenario assessment tools, and a “think-aloud” approach. The research participants were 19 practicing Chinese engineers, a majority of whom had previous experiences working with foreigners. The semi-structured interviews were used to investigate the broader sociopolitical contexts of Chinese engineering and engineers, as well as the cultures of the everyday work of the Chinese engineers. Additionally, 14 hypothetical global engineering scenarios were employed to further examine the strategies Chinese engineers recommended using to approach cross-cultural engineering encounters, including how their evaluation of the effectiveness of these strategies was shaped by the cultural values in their everyday practice. ^ This dissertation can be seen as a model or template showing possible approaches to studying the broader sociopolitical context of engineering in a non-Western country, the culture of engineering in that country, and how these non-Western engineers understand and approach cross-cultural engineering encounters. It is hoped that the major findings of this work can be used to develop pedagogical materials to educate future globally competent engineers, practical tools for training and assessing global competency among practicing engineers, and evidence-based policies to further enhance effective cross-cultural science and engineering collaboration.^




Brent Jesiek, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Engineering|Organizational behavior|Science education

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