Characterizing Identity Profiles for Engineering Students Attending Small Colleges and Universities

Ellen Zerbe, Catherine G.P. Berdanier, Kyeonghun Jwa

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


Small schools often boast that their value lies in personalized education, experienced teachers, and engagement opportunities. In 2017, about 52,000 of the graduating engineering students came from small colleges and universities. While representing a small fraction of the total number of graduating engineers each year, these students may be significantly different than their peers trained at larger schools if the claims made by small schools are correct. This paper presents common identities of students who attend small colleges and the impact of the small school environment on those identities. Interviews were conducted with N=24 undergraduate engineering students from four small schools: a religiously affiliated school balanced between liberal arts and engineering majors, two technical schools with predominately engineering majors, and a non-affiliated liberal arts school where engineering majors were a minority. After the interview, participants could take a survey to outline and rank identities that they felt applied to them. This study used the Model for Multiple Dimension of Identity (MMDI) as a framework to interpret and visualize the identity rankings. Results show that the type of small school significantly impacts the prominent identities of its students. Schools where engineering students were a small portion of the campus population supported multiple students' identities beyond identifying with their major. Women were also more likely to believe that their school environment significantly impacted which identities were more prominent regardless of school type. While each individual is unique, recognizing the archetypes of prominent identities can increase our understanding of the type of students who attend small schools and open the door for tailored instruction that capitalizes on these identities in a school's population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Jul 26 2021
Event2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference, ASEE 2021 - Virtual, Online
Duration: Jul 26 2021Jul 29 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Engineering


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