• diversity;
  • participation;
  • sustainability



Sustainability is increasingly a vital consideration for engineers. Improved understanding of how attention to sustainability influences student major and career choice could inform efforts to broaden participation in engineering.


Two related questions guided our research. How do career outcome expectations related to sustainability predict the choice of an engineering career? Which broader sustainability-related outcomes do students perceive as related to engineering? To address both questions, we compared effects for engineering and nonengineering students while controlling for various confounding variables.


We conducted a survey to collect responses about sustainability and other variables of interest from a national sample of college students in introductory English classes. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics and correlational analysis.


Students who hope to address certain sustainability issues such as energy, climate change, environmental degradation, and water supply are more likely to pursue engineering. Those who hope to address other sustainability issues such as opportunities for women and minorities, poverty, and disease are less likely to do so. Students hoping to address sustainability-related outcome expectations with obvious human relevance are less likely to pursue engineering. Yet those students who perceive “improving quality of life” and “saving lives” as associated with engineering are more likely to pursue the profession.


Our results suggest that showing students the connection between certain sustainability issues and engineering careers could help those striving to increase and diversify participation in engineering. A broader range of engineers would likely bring new ideas and ways of thinking to engineering for sustainability.