Identifying Cross-National Engineering Student Profiles According to Perceived Importance of Skills
Engineers of the future are expected to possess a range of competencies in addition to math and science skills. This paper turns to engineering students to explore what they think it takes to become a good engineer. Profiles are identified by means of a large-scale survey-based investigation of the perceptions of first year engineering students in the US and in Denmark with respect to the importance of math/science skills and interpersonal and professional skills for successful engineering. Four groups of first year engineering students are defined according to combinations of high and low importance assessments of each of the two skill types in both countries. This leads to analytically derived groups emphasizing math/science skills, interpersonal and professional skills, both skill types, and none of the skills. Differences and similarities between these groups are explored in terms of relative group sizes and gender composition, levels of confidence, and motivation to study engineering. The findings show that the four engineering student groups have distinct profiles with different characteristics in terms of motivation and confidence and which may each require different educational approaches to become broad thinking engineers. Apart from the exploratory investigation of group differences within each country, the paper also examines whether the four group profiles are nationally confined or if common tendencies shared by engineering students in both countries exist. The paper contributes to the literature on engineering education and serves to inform engineering educators and institutions worldwide with new insights into the expectations and perceptions of actual students who are at the very beginning of their pathway to an engineering education.
International Journal of Engineering Education, 2013, Vol 29, Issue 3, p. 698-713