Tensions of Integration in Professional Formation: Investigating Development of Engineering Students' Social and Technical PerceptionsTwenty-first century engineers face incredible challenges and opportunities, many of which aresocially complex, transcending the traditional “technical” boundaries of engineering. Thetechnology produced by engineers must not only function as predicted by mathematical andtheoretical models but must also operate beneficially and seamlessly in complex social contexts.In this sense, engineers must embody an integrated social and technical – or sociotechnical –identity rather than a dualistic social/technical one.A growing body of scholarship has discussed how dominant cultures of engineering shapestudents’ and professionals’ understandings of social and technical dimensions of their work.Further, engineering education research has advanced understanding of how engineering identityis formed by external, structural forces. Yet, from a psychological perspective, we know littleabout how engineering students come to perceive and embody their identities as engineers,especially in relation to social and technical dimensions of these identities. Thus, we organizedthis study around the following research questions.RQ0: How do students psychologically experience identity trajectories of becoming engineers?RQ1: How do students perceive the social and technical features of engineering identity?RQ2: How do students internally experience their identities as engineers, particularly with regard to social and technical dimensions of these identities?RQ3: How do social and technical perceptions of their engineering identity develop and change in the course of the engineering curriculum or in the transition to the workplace?To respond to these research questions, we have conducted two longitudinal studies usinginterpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA). One study focused on graduating seniors as theytransitioned into the workplace, and the second study focused on first-year students transitioningto engineering degree coursework. These investigations produced robust and nuancedunderstanding of students’ engineering identity trajectories throughout and beyond thecurriculum. These findings are being leveraged in order to provide our initial understanding in athematic analysis on sophomore engineering students.Thus far, the findings of the investigation highlight the complexity of becoming both engineers,specifically by demonstrating a somewhat contradictory relationship between what participantsperceived to be engineering and how they actually embodied an engineering-self. They furtherdemonstrate the manifold ways that participants realized and prioritized identities outside ofengineering and how these multiple selves interacted in ways that affected their engineeringidentities. Additionally, findings for both male and female groups suggest that somepsychological patterns might be related to gender. In sum, the findings depict a complex pictureof engineering-students-turned-engineers as whole persons. By focusing on how engineeringidentity development is embodied, the findings generate multiple theoretical insights that bearrelevance for engineering education research and provocative implications that bear significancefor engineering educators, students, and employers.


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Engineering education, Professional formation, social perceptions, technical perceptions

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Huff, J. L., & Jesiek, B. K., & Oakes, W. C., & Zoltowski, C. B., & Ramane, K. D., & Graziano, W. G. (2015, June), Tensions of Integration in Professional Formation: Investigating Development of Engineering Students' Social and Technical Perceptions Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24838