All in a Day's Work: Women Engineering Students' Professional Development in a Living-Learning Community

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Virginia Tech


The engineering profession requires engineers who have not only deep technical knowledge but also broad professional competencies necessary to address complex challenges that impact individuals and communities. While engineering students often develop necessary technical competencies during their undergraduate education, professional competencies are often lacking in graduates. This lack of professional development can lead to graduates who are not prepared for the engineering profession and lead to fewer people, particularly individuals from groups historically underrepresented in engineering such as women, entering and continuing in these fields.

Due to the rigidity of the engineering curriculum, out-of-class experiences, such as living-learning communities (LLCs), have become important sites for this professional development and can help women explore engineering and learn professional competencies. However, little is known about how these programs support students, particularly in regard to professional development. To further our understanding of these programs, a phenomenographic study was conducted to explore the experiences of 20 students who participated in an LLC for women in engineering. This study examined women's views of professional development in engineering and the experiences within the LLC that could support this development. Following an iterative analysis of interviews, two models were developed: the PD² Model captures women's views of the professional competencies relevant in engineering; and the LEEPD Model captures features of beneficial professional development experiences within the LLC.

Combined, these models serve as useful resources for creating beneficial experiences to support women's professional development in engineering education contexts. The PD² Model can help educators intentionally identify outcomes of professional experiences, and the LEEPD Model can help in the design of a variety of experiences that are beneficial for students.



Career development, out-of-class experiences, living-learning communities, engineering, Women