Recently published reports call for an increase in the number of engineering graduates and suggest appropriate characteristics that these graduates should embody. Accomplishing such change first requires understanding why students choose to pursue engineering degrees.
Framed in motivation theory, our purpose was to better understand how students choose engineering by answering the question: How do engineering students' engineering-related value beliefs contribute to their choices to engage and persist in earning engineering degrees?
This research uses Eccles' expectancy-value theory in a qualitative, longitudinal examination of undergraduate students' choices to enroll and persist in engineering majors. In particular, the focus of this work is Eccles' subjective task value (STV) construct, which incorporates the personal importance an individual assigns to engaging in an activity. Using a multiple case study method approach, participants included eleven students (five men and six women) at a U.S. technical school.
Results demonstrate that different patterns exist in the types of value or personal importance that participants assign to earning an engineering degree. Moreover, a primary differentiating feature of these patterns is whether or not participants choose engineering because it is consistent with their personal identity or sense of self.
We conclude that values are very important in students' choices to become engineers. To increase persistence rates we must focus on values, especially by helping students connect their personal identities to engineering identities.