In order to lead the social process required to solve society’s grandest challenges and ensure that the capabilities of an expanded engineering workforce are successfully harnessed, new engineers must be more than just technical experts, they must also be technical leaders. Thankfully, greater numbers of engineering educators are recognizing this need and are consequently establishing engineering leadership certificates, minors, and even full degree programs through centers at universities throughout the country. However, for these programs to reach their full potential, engineering educators must be successful in integrating leadership into the very identity of engineers. This study seeks to better understand the relationship between engineering identity and leadership, so tools can be developed that enable engineering educators to more effectively integrate leadership into an engineering identity.
This paper explores this relationship using a national sample of 918 engineering students who participated in the 2013 College Senior Survey (CSS). The CSS is administered by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at UCLA to college students at the end of their fourth year of college; data from the CSS are then matched to students’ prior responses on the 2009 Freshman Survey (TFS), which was administered when they first started college, to create a longitudinal sample. Using a leadership construct developed by HERI as the outcome variable, this work utilizes Hierarchical Linear Modelling (HLM) to examine the impact of engineering identity and a host of other factors shown to be important in college student development on leadership. HLM is especially appropriate since individual student cases are grouped by schools, and predictor variables include both student-level and institution-level variables. The leadership construct, referred to as leadership self-efficacy in this work, includes self-rated growth in leadership ability, self-rating of leadership ability relative to one’s peers, participation in a leadership role and/or leadership training, and perceived effectiveness leading an organization.
The primary independent variable of interest was a factor measuring engineering identity comprised of items available on both the TFS and CSS instruments. Including this measure of engineering identity from two different time periods in the model provides the relationship between engineering identity in the fourth year and leadership self-efficacy, controlling for engineering identity in the first year as a pretest. Statistically significant results were found across each of the areas tested, including the fourth-year engineering identity factor as well as several collegiate experiences, pre-college experiences, major, and institutional variables. Taken together, these results present a nuanced picture of what matters to predicting leadership outcomes for undergraduate engineering students. For example, while engineering identity is a significant positive predictor of the leadership construct, computer engineers score lower than mechanical engineers on leadership, while interacting with faculty appears to enhance leadership self-efficacy.
Are you a researcher? Would you like to cite this paper?
Visit the ASEE document repository at
for more tools and easy citations.