An Exploration of Students' Interests in Pursuing Careers in Environmental Sustainability
Although more people are transitioning into environmental sustainability careers, there is still a demand. This presents an opportunity for undergraduate engineering students to satisfy the demand for environmental sustainability professionals. The purpose of this qualitative exploratory study was to explore environmental sustainability learning experiences, from small in-class experiences to internships, and future career choices. By utilizing the social cognitive theory (SCCT) as a theoretical lens, this study explored participants' environmental sustainability interests, learning experiences related to environmental sustainability and their interest in pursuing a future career in environmental sustainability. This research addresses a gap in the existing literature by exploring how undergraduate engineering students' environmental sustainability learning experiences impact their decisions to pursue careers in this field, framed by the SCCT. The perspectives of twenty-five undergraduate engineering students in various engineering disciplines at Virginia Tech, an R1 public university in Blacksburg, Virginia. The participants were enrolled in ENGR3124, Introduction to Green Engineering, during the Fall 2022 semester and were interviewed for the study. Semi-structured online interviews were conducted via Zoom, allowing students to provide detailed information about their learning experiences and future career plans. Data was analyzed to (1) identify students' interest in pursuing a career in environmental sustainability (2) determine if students' interests have changed since they began their undergraduate studies (3) explore how learning experiences have impacted the students' future career choice. The findings discover that exposure to environmental sustainability learning experiences plays a meaningful role in impacting students' interests in pursuing careers in sustainability. Results reveal that factors such as personal values and salary considerations inspire career choices. Outcomes from this research suggest that promoting a connection between engineering education and environmental sustainability can inspire future engineers to actively pursue environmental sustainability careers and find solutions to sustainability issues. This underscores the significance of integrating sustainability experiences, such as a current events discussion in class or projects with an environmental sustainability element, into undergraduate engineering education. This research contributes to addressing the growing demand for people to address environmental sustainability issues, highlighting the role of learning experiences in shaping students' career interests. Further research in this area will be necessary for further developing strategies to encourage students to pursue sustainability-related careers and contribute to environmental sustainability initiatives.