2022 First-Year Engineering Experience

Familial Influence on the Choice to Study Engineering: Insights from a Cross-University Study.

Presented at Technical Session T1B

This complete research paper investigates familial influence on student engineering major choice. Within the engineering education literature body, motivation to study engineering has been linked to a variety of factors including interest in the field, competence in math and science, strong problem-solving skills, and the promise of career security. Familial influence, specifically that of parents and siblings, has also been tied to the choice to study engineering within student reflections in the literature. Occupational inheritance of careers is well documented, where parents influence their childrens’ career choice, resulting in parents and children in the same career field. Previous work [BLINDED] at a single Midwestern STEM-focused university indicated that the presence of engineers within a students’ family may influence career choice, especially within daughters of female engineers. This study seeks to expand that work by gathering data across two universities to further explore the influence of familial engineers on the career choice of engineering students.

At the conclusion of the Fall 2020 semester, 94 students enrolled in the First Year Engineering Program at [BLINDED] university and [BLINDED] university were administered a survey. This survey, adapted from the authors’ previous work, aimed to understand what factors influence students' choice to pursue engineering. Students were asked to respond to a series of multiple choice questions regarding familial occupations and links to engineering or other STEM fields. To add richness to the results of the multiple choice questions, open-ended, reflection-style prompts asking students to describe what motivated them to study engineering were added to the survey. Through methods of analytic induction, student reflections to these prompts were analyzed using coding techniques to identify emergent themes. The resulting themes were aggregated into overarching categories and are presented below.

Amongst student reflections, the most prevalent factor in motivating students to study engineering was previous experience in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.) Students' reflections also highlight interest in the field of engineering, strong “engineering” skills (problem solving, designing, building), and the promise of career stability as being key factors influencing their decision. Less prevalent within the open-ended student responses is the influence of family, mentors, and institutions. Few student responses reflect familial influence as a factor contributing to their motivation to study STEM. However, when considered in context with student responses to the multiple choice questions, an interesting picture arises. Of the 94 students surveyed across both institutions, 27 (29%) students reported at least one family member or mentor in engineering and 62 (67%) reported at least one in either engineering or another STEM field. This paper presents an investigation into these relationships, presenting implications for future work to understand how and whether students recognize influences of familial engineers on their motivation to major in engineering.

  1. Mrs. Katrina L Carlson Michigan Technological University [biography]
  2. Dr. Akua B. Oppong-Anane West Virginia University [biography]
  3. Dr. Sarah Tan Michigan Technological University [biography]
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