Examining pathways into graduate school through stewardship theory

Kanembe Shanachilubwa, Catherine G.P. Berdanier

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The purpose of this research paper is to understand the trajectories of early-career graduate students and senior-level undergraduate students as they consider graduate school. To this end, we qualitatively examined a corpus of N=50 personal statements, taken from winners of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program in one award cycle, to understand the trajectories that researchers take going into graduate school. Current graduate engineering enrollment numbers are declining with engineering doctoral attrition rates estimated to be about 24% and 36% for males and females, respectively. Students from traditionally underrepresented minority groups record doctoral attrition rates higher than 50%. This study employs the lens of Stewardship Theory, a theory commonly used to characterize the practices and activities of experts and PhD holders in generating, transforming, and conserving knowledge. Applied to our study, Stewardship Theory illuminates how particular undergraduate experiences, such as research experiences, teaching assistantships, tutoring, or outreach experiences, form the beginnings of an academic identity as a steward of the discipline, and prepare students for graduate school. Analysis of these fellowship awardees will help us identify and categorize experiences that encourage and prepare students to pursue graduate level studies, not that every student should or wants to pursue graduate school, but to help students begin to form academic identities Our findings characterize the experiences that undergraduates and early-career graduate students have through this and use qualitative data to show how these experiences prepared students to envision their role as graduate students. As a result of these findings, the engineering education research and practice communities can better understand how students conceptualize graduate school, their career goals, and research-intensive careers to inform how these experiences are conducted. Our findings also hold implications for scholars studying the formation of the future professoriate, as the academic pipeline begins with students like the ones from which we collected data in this study.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number654
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Jun 22 2020
Event2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference, ASEE 2020 - Virtual, Online
Duration: Jun 22 2020Jun 26 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Engineering


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