Understanding engineering students' professional pathways: A longitudinal mixed-methods study

Samantha Ruth Brunhaver, Holly M. Matusovich, Ruth A. Streveler, Sheri Sheppard, Cheryl Carrico, Angela Harris

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


According to data from the National Science Foundation (NSF), nearly two-thirds of engineering bachelor's graduates work in engineering fields immediately after college, while another 30 percent takes jobs in non-engineering fields.1 Prior work, however, shows that most engineering undergraduates are "unsure" about their future career direction, even in the months leading up to graduation,2 and little is known about how and why they eventually choose what to do. Furthermore, while several college-related factors have been linked to engineering students' initial career decisions, how these and other factors actively shape their initial career steps remains understudied. To address these gaps, we designed the NSF-funded Professional Engineering Pathways Study (PEPS), a three-year collaboration aimed at understanding and enhancing the process through which engineering undergraduates explore, select, and prepare for their chosen careers (NSFEEC-1360665, 1360956, and 1360958). PEPS builds upon the rich tradition begun by two prior NSF-funded studies, the Academic Pathways Study (APS) and the Engineering Pathways Study (EPS), of using multi-institutional, mixed-methods research to delineate the experiences of engineering students and early career professionals. The project also features two components: the research component, and the community of practice component. The research component follows engineering students at six U.S. institutions through their junior or senior year, to examine how engineering students' career development and decision-making processes unfold over time. Also as part of this component, we are interviewing engineering faculty, student advisors, and career services staff about their perceptions of engineering students and the career resources provided to them on their campuses. The community of practice component focuses on bridging research-to-practice by engaging key stakeholders at the six partner institutions in data collection, interpretation, and dissemination activities. Outcomes from the study will include improving the career services and advising available to soon-to-be-degreed engineers at both these and other engineering schools. Currently in Year 2, we are analyzing our information-gathering interviews with faculty, advisors, and staff and sharing our initial findings with stakeholders at each of our six partner institutions for their feedback. In addition, we are preparing to conduct longitudinal surveys and interviews of junior and senior engineering students during the upcoming 2016-2017 academic year. This paper summarizes the work completed over Years 1-2, and provides background and details about the project.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Jun 26 2016
Event123rd ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition - New Orleans, United States
Duration: Jun 26 2016Jun 29 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Engineering(all)


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