Looking at engineering students through a motivation/confidence framework

Samantha Brunhaver, Sheri Sheppard, Ozgur Eris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


In this paper we compare groups of engineering students along two dimensions, intrinsic psychological motivation to study engineering and confidence in professional and interpersonal skills. We focus on these two measures because they have been shown to be directly related to seniors' future career plans and other aspects of the student experience1. Our sample included 103 students who participated in the NSF-sponsored Academic Pathways Study (APS) from 2003 to 2007 and who graduated with an engineering degree. The students completed the Persistence in Engineering (PIE) survey seven times during their four years of college. Scores of intrinsic motivation and professional and interpersonal confidence were created for each student using survey data from the end of their freshman year. Students were then categorized into four groups depending on whether their motivation and confidence scores were above or below the population mean. Scores on other variables related to the college experience were used to investigate the influence of engineering undergraduates' motivation and confidence levels as freshmen on the rest of their undergraduate careers. We found no statistical differences in group demographics or professional persistence. However, students who were high in intrinsic motivation and professional and interpersonal confidence (M/C) also reported higher levels of perceived importance of professional and interpersonal skills, participation in non-engineering extracurricular activities, and exposure to the engineering profession than students who were low in both measures (m/c). We present case studies of two students, one M/C and the other m/c, to illustrate differences in their attitudes toward activities outside of the classroom and toward the importance of professional and interpersonal skills. While the M/C student felt that she best utilized her time by engaging in a number of nonengineering extracurricular activities and internship experiences, her m/c peer viewed such activities as encroaching on her limited time. We argue that a student's level of non-academic involvement is related to the importance she ascribes to professional and interpersonal skills in engineering. Implications for engineering educators and suggestions for further research are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Engineering


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