Date of Award

Fall 2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Engineering Education

First Advisor

Matthew Ohland

Second Advisor

Senay Purzer

Committee Chair

Matthew Ohland

Committee Co-Chair

Senay Purzer

Committee Member 1

Ruth Streveler

Committee Member 2

Kathryn Jablokow

Committee Member 3

Karl Smith


The use of science and engineering skills to address the problems of modern society is regarded as an economic strategy in developed countries across the world. However, business and political leaders in the United States feel that we, as a society, do not understand that new global competition can match and even outpace us on innovation. Many of the studies on innovators are not specific to engineers. This study filled a gap in the understanding of what characteristics constitute innovative behavior in engineers.

The purpose of this study was to explore engineers' views of innovation and innovators who create and implement innovations in order to develop socially accepted descriptions of these phenomena. More specifically, three research questions were examined: "How do engineers define and describe innovations and the innovation process?", "What are the characteristics or knowledge, skills, and attributes that enable engineers to translate their creative ideas into innovations that benefit society?," and, "How do these individual characteristics that enable engineers to be innovative vary across the stages of innovation?" This study of engineering innovativeness was set in an interpretivist framework and developed a socially co-constructed description of engineering innovativeness. The data were collected through interviews with experienced and recognized engineering innovators who described engineers who were innovative including themselves. To inform the full study an exploratory convenient interview-based pilot study of engineering innovativeness was conducted with engineering innovators.

Participants were identified using a purposeful criterion and snowball sample and recruited by contacting engineering professionals in multiple disciplines and locations to act as connectors and also recruited using snowballing through engineering innovators.

A grounded theory analysis approach for integrated data collection and analysis was used to construct and test models of engineering innovativeness across the interviewee-defined stages of the innovation process. After construction of a codebook and coding reviews with research collaborators, interviews were coded until theoretical and categorical saturation was achieved. Participants identified definitions of an innovation and the innovation process, engineering innovator characteristics and an overall model of engineering innovativeness and a model of engineering innovativeness in the participant defined stages of the innovation process. A description of the non-innovative engineer as a negative case was also developed.