Preliminary Findings On Freshmen Engineering Students' Professional Identity: Implications For Recruitment And Retention
2009 Annual Conference & Exposition Proceedings
Despite a significant increase in efforts to recruit and retain more engineering students through initiatives such as learning communities, mentoring, and pre-college programs, the decline in engineering enrollment continues. Recent research suggests that students' identity and identification with engineering plays a critical role in their decision to pursue engineering and to persist once they start their professional education. This study further examines the role of identity among freshmen
... ty among freshmen engineering students through the lens of identity theory. Whereas prior work focused on the development of a singular engineering identity, we draw on current research in social psychology to investigate the multi-faceted nature of identity, with one person being able to maintain several identities simultaneously, and its role in recruitment and retention. We undertook a qualitative study and conducted a combination of focus groups and interviews (N=36), focusing on engineering, science, and non-STEM students, including students who switched out of engineering. Questions were directed towards attempting to understand the factors involved in the development of a professional identity. In this paper, we present in-depth case studies of two female students to highlight the concept of multiple identities and their formation. Through this deep representation of professional identity, we found that exposure to engineering and overall familiarity with the field proved to be one of the largest factors effecting retention. Our preliminary findings point to the conclusion that recruitment and retention can be improved by increasing the presence of engineering in K-12 settings and undergraduate institutions respectively. We suggest directions for future work and discuss our plans to explore the development of the professional identity over time (from freshman to senior year) as well as additional levels of identity formation and transformation.