This research paper explores students’ engineering, mathematics, and physics identities across the four years of undergraduate engineering education. The focus of this work are subject-related role identities, or how students position themselves and are positioned by others as the kind of people that engage in engineering, mathematics, or physics. An identity as an engineer is a role identity because it embodies a specific character that an individual plays within a social sphere. In this case, the social sphere is in the process of becoming an engineer. Other research has focused on identity development of engineering students, often either early in their undergraduate education (during the first year) or at the end of their undergraduate education when they have developed the discourse and practices of what it means to be an engineer. This work utilizes previously developed instruments with strong validity evidence to gather and compare cross-sectional data on students STEM identities over the four years of undergraduate engineering education at one institution.

We collected data from 644 engineering students at a large, public East Coast university using an electronic survey during the spring semester of 2016. These measures included measures of student engagement in activities related to innovation, student integration, demographic information, and identity measures. The identities measures captured students’ interest in engineering, students’ feeling of recognition by others as an engineer, and students’ beliefs about their performance/competence in engineering. We also measured students’ overall attitudes about their identities as a physics person, math person, and engineer. These items were taken from previously developed instruments for early career engineering students. The data were cleaned using a filter question for a total of 586 valid responses. To ensure evidence for validity, we tested the factor structure of the constructs using exploratory factor analysis and tested the internal consistency of the constructs. We found that the factor structure was consistent for this population and the internal consistency measures (e.g., Cronbach’s α) were well above the recommended cutoff of 0.7 for newly developed instruments and also above 0.8 for developed instruments.

Student responses were compared by students’ year at the university (e.g., first year, second year, third year, or forth or more year) using ANOVA and post-hoc Tukey’s HSD for significant results. The findings illustrate differences in students’ engineering performance/competence and recognition beliefs as well as differences in their engineering, mathematics, physics overall identity measures. The post-hoc Tukey’s HSD tests reveal a consistent pattern of identity development with lower identification in the second year of engineering education progressing to the highest levels in the fourth year. This research provides evidence that these measures can be used with students across undergraduate engineering and that they differentiate among students by year at a university.


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Permanent URL: https://peer.asee.org/27460


Engineering Education, Identity, Engineering Identity, Undergraduate Engineering

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Godwin, A., & Lee, W. C. (2017, June), A Cross-sectional Study of Engineering Identity During Undergraduate Education Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. https://peer.asee.org/27460