Disciplinary Influences on the Professional Identity of Civil Engineering Students: Starting the Conversation
As the discipline of civil engineering has evolved from an apprentice-based trade to a socially-engaged profession, the role of the civil engineer has responded to shifts within the ever-changing culture of society. These shifts and historical events have directly influenced what is considered to be valued civil engineering knowledge, behaviors, and practices that we teach to students during their undergraduate careers.
As part of a larger grounded theory study that is currently being conducted by the authors, the purpose of this paper is two-fold. First, we present the topic of professional identity formation as heavily influenced by unique historical events that shape the civil engineering discipline. . To establish the connection between identity formation and the history of civil engineering, we interpret historical events as constituents that create a disciplinary identity that is communicated to and subjectively applied by students during their undergraduate careers. Second, we hope to promote and invoke conversations surrounding the relevancy of civil engineering professional identity formation in engineering education among our colleagues within the technical disciplines.
Through this paper, we add to ongoing research exploring the professional formation of engineering identities and promote discussions surround this topic at the disciplinary level. While most research conducted on identity formation has been generalized to include all or most engineering disciplines, we focus our discussion solely on professional identity formation within the civil engineering discipline. To reinforce the relationship between the history of the civil engineering profession and students’ professional identity formation, we review the literature on these two areas of inquiry. In particular, we will frame our paper using the following key discussion points: 1) providing a brief overview of key historical events of civil engineering in the United States; 2) discussing the influence of this history on instructor pedagogies and student learning within civil engineering education; and 3) conceptualizing this learning process as a means of professional identity formation.
From this work, we will begin to understand how major historical shifts within our discipline maintain the potential to impact its future as we educate the next generation of civil engineering students. To conclude this paper, we will introduce current research that is being conducted by the authors to further understand the nuances of professional identity formation in undergraduate civil engineering students and how instructors may help or hinder that development.