Person or thing oriented: A comparative study of individual differences of first-year engineering students and practitioners
Pilotte, Mary K.
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Background: Engineering practice is meant to advance the human condition, yet curricula do not appear to fully promote the human-centered philosophy of engineering in implementation. The educational system may inadvertently signal to students that engineering is a career choice better suited for those preferring to work with things rather than people. This framing of the profession prompts questions regarding student interests when compared to those of practicing engineers and how such interests become concrete through education and introduction into the profession. Purpose/Hypothesis: We compare engineering students' and practitioners' interest in working with people or things in their environment. We examine gender differences for each sample. Design/Methods: Multiple analysis of variance was used to examine the samples of practicing engineers (n = 339) and first-year engineering students (n = 383). A multiple-group confirmatory factor analysis provides evidence of measurement invariance and justifies the use of the person-thing orientation (PO-TO) scale structure for both samples. Results: Detailed PO values reveal that students' PO scores (n = 383, M = 3.313) are more than one and a half points lower than practicing engineer counterparts examined (n = 339, M = 4.836). However, no significant difference between practicing engineers and students was found for TO. Further, statistically significant differences in PO and TO were found between male and female participants within both samples, students and practicing engineers. Conclusions: Differences detected in PO and TO across the samples suggest possible environmental factors influencing student perspectives of the engineering profession. This condition may inadvertently discourage more diverse students from pursuing engineering.