This engineering education research project seeks to learn why the engineering service organization Engineers Without Borders is successful at attracting a large number of women volunteers and thus better understand the factors that can help recruit women into engineering degree programs. The project uses the constructs of self-efficacy and outcome beliefs to examine why individuals make choices about engineering degree programs and future career paths.
The broader significance and importance of this project will be to potentially inform engineering educators and policy makers about why women, who are significantly under-represented in engineering, are attracted to some engineering organizations but not engineering degree programs in general. The study will also shed light on why women who obtain engineering degrees may choose not use take advantage of that degree by following an engineering career. Given the large personal and societal investment in engineering degrees, this may have far-reaching impact on the number of women engineers in the United States.
This Project was focused on identity, altruism, and changed outcomes within the engineering profession, through the lens of social cognitive theory which was used to uncover motivations for engagement in EWB-USA and understand why the organization enjoys a relatively balanced gender membership. Using a mixed method research approach, we posed the following questions: - How does participation in EWB-USA support, sustain, or diminish motivation to enter and stay in engineering? - Which demographic factors influence involvement and retention in EWB-USA? - How does participation in EWB-USA impact the expected outcomes of participation in engineering? - Why do students and professionals join and remain engaged with EWB-USA? - How does involvement with EWB-USA effect sense of identity? Qualitative and quantitative results together showed that EWB-USA engineers exhibit similar personality traits and motivations to study engineering as non-member engineers, particularly those that are common among engineers in literature. In addition, EWB-USA engineers showed that they are also a broader version of the more stereotypical engineer than non-members, particularly in terms of their open and friendly personality traits, and their motivations to study engineering through a desire to serve others. Because EWB-USA members are unique from other engineers, we believe the results help highlight a major concern within the engineering field—the misalignment of engineersâ€™ personal values and their vocations—which should be addressed in order to facilitate a broader engineering field. Evidence from the survey showed that EWB-USA members and non-members rate their technical skills similarly, but that EWB-USA members rate themselves to have much higher professional skills than their non-member peers, even when controlling for age, gender, GPA, and involvement in another professional engineering organization. Although we cannot prove causality, the qualitative data suggests that these differences are due to EWB-USA membersâ€™ unique experiences through their organizational involvement, particularly the realistic and complex project experiences. The results from this project can make an impact on a personal, small-scale level for many engineers, as well as on engineering workplaces. The results stress that EWB-USA members are both similar to and different from other engineers. EWB-USA members and non-members have similar technical skills, intrinsic motivation for studying engineering, organized and stable personality traits, and desires to work in engineering design; however, EWB-USA members also have stronger professional skills, motivations for social good, open and friendly personality traits, and desires to work in community development or public policy than non-members. Combined, these results illustrate that the status quo engineering field may not be a good fit for many EWB-type engineers, and that without making changes to adapt, the engineering field may lose many of its diverse and broadly equipped workers. On a larger, institutional level, our results should not only encourage engineering universities to continue to make opportunities available to such broadly interested and diverse engineers, such as service-learning courses, humanitarian engineering programs, and service organizations, but the results should also encourage workplaces to consider how to support such engineers through innovative HR strategies. On the personal level, our results should help bring awareness to many EWB-type engineers who may either think that they cannot do engineering because of their broad interests (typically at the student level) or who think that they will be able to work in an EWB-like career in engineering (typically as graduating students or young practitioners). We believe that programs like EWB-USA have power to attract a diverse and broadly prepared engineering population, particularly among women, but that there is a danger in falsely raising hopes to those who long for a career in such work. These results can help caution the field about the dangers of the current lag between EWB-type opportunities available at the student level and those available the practitioner level. Raising such awareness can help encourage workplace changes that can be personally satisfying to young engineers. Achieving such satisfaction in the workplace can then help the engineering profession achieve its goals of a more diverse engineering population that has increased capabilities of solving pressing global challenges.