Engineers must acquire increasing technical and professional skills to meet pressing global challenges, but fitting training for these skills into already crowded curricula is difficult. Engineering service may provide opportunities to gain such skills; however, prior research about learning outcomes from such activities has been primarily small-scale, anecdotal, or lacking a comparison group.
We aim to understand whether self-reported learning outcomes differ between engineers involved and not involved with engineering service activities. Specifically, do the two groups experience and learn different technical and professional skills in their engineering activities?
We used a sequential mixed methods approach that began with interviews and focus groups with 165 participants and continued with a questionnaire administered to over 2,500 engineering students and practicing engineers both involved and not involved with engineering service. Analyses included variable-oriented qualitative analysis and multiple linear regression models to compare perceived technical and professional skills.
Quantitative results show that engineers involved and not involved with engineering service report comparable perceived technical skills, and that those involved in engineering service report significantly higher perceived professional skills, even when controlling for age, gender, and grade point average. Qualitative results indicate that higher professional skills can be partially attributed to the realistic, complex, and contextualized learning experiences within engineering service activities.
Engineers involved with engineering service may gain strong professional engineering skills that do not compromise their technical skills. Thus, engineering service may help educate the type of engineers the field needs to confront pressing global challenges.
Litchfield, K., Javernick-Will, A., and Maul, A. (2016). “Technical and Professional Skills of Engineers Involved and Not Involved in Engineering Service.” Journal of Engineering Education. 105 (1), 70-92. doi: 10.1002/jee.20109