Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2015

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Civil, Environmental & Architectural Engineering

First Advisor

Angela Bielefeldt

Second Advisor

Jacquelyn Sullivan

Third Advisor

Ray Littlejohn

Fourth Advisor

JoAnn Silverstein

Fifth Advisor

Amy Javernick-Will

Abstract

If we are to address the enrollment challenges that we face in engineering education, we must consciously adapt to better serve students in concert with their innate psychological needs and properly educate them for increasingly diverse career paths via more flexible degree programs. A conscious cultivation of program environments to meet students’ need for autonomy coupled with a purposeful allocation of technical and non-technical degree program content that responsibly educates the engineers of our future are fundamental renovations suggested for undergraduate engineering education.

This thesis lays foundational work for the advancement of engineering education by exploring the course choice opportunities and technical—non-technical coursework balance allocated to undergraduate engineering students in hundreds of diverse engineering degree programs across the United States. Course choice opportunities are defined as occasions over the duration of a degree program when a student is given the freedom to choose his or her courses, such as free electives, engineering electives, or humanities electives.

Findings suggest that while comparatively minimal course choice opportunity is prevalent in engineering degree programs, this program model is unnecessary from an accreditation standpoint and incongruent with the psychological needs of students. Exceptional accredited, prestigious, and specialized undergraduate engineering degree programs exist that are far more autonomy-supportive in terms of providing substantial course choice opportunities to students, demonstrating exciting possibilities for reworking the design of undergraduate engineering degree programs to better support students’ psychological needs.

Results also indicate that a wide range of technical—non-technical balance exists across the nation’s undergraduate engineering degree programs, which may cause students to find themselves enrolled in engineering programs that do not reflect the curricular experience they expected, nor are well-matched for their career aspirations. Today’s engineering graduates go on to diverse career paths, in both what are traditionally categorized as “technical” and “non-technical” fields, requiring a blend of both skillsets in differing proportions. The community of engineering educators should become more informed, intentional, and forward-thinking about these differing curricular allocation opportunities, so that this wide range of technical—non-technical balance can become a conscious asset of differentiated education to better serve society and students.

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