I work in academia at Virginia Tech and tend to focus my research on students in their first year of engineering or in their transition from high school into their first year. These students typically take a very traditional path and up getting an engineering degree. We know those careers are out there: we know our graduates can find a career after graduation by taking the usual path. The traditional path is well established, it has been around for decades and will continue. But we know it’s not the only pathway to working in different technology fields that are similar to engineering.
There are other pathways – for example, technology programs, paths through community colleges or high school programs with certifications, and/or with additional training. Within engineering academia circles, I don't think that these alternate pathways are very well understood or appreciated. Since we focus so much on our typical pathway, we tend to overlook those other opportunities. There are ways that these two different worlds can work together – these areas can constructively inform the other.
I look forward to working with Center for Technology & Workforce Solutions (CTWS) and examining how to get more people into IT careers, and what we learn in our research within academia can inform these efforts. Through CTWS, we can look at certification programs and work with high schools and community colleges and get those certifications in place. I’ve done a lot of research in the field of engineering and looked at student success in a university setting. I think some of those findings can help in these efforts. There is also a lot that’s been done in the real world that engineering programs can use -- things we can learn from each other. I look forward to bringing some of our research findings to CTWS as well as providing that academia voice.
What Really Motivates Students?
Some of the research we’ve conducted at Virginia Tech and elsewhere looks at which students stay in the engineering program and which students leave. Typically, public perception on why students leave can be, "Engineering is hard, so students who can't handle it probably leave." But what we find is students are told that engineering is an exciting, innovative and creative field, then they come into many programs, in their first year of school and are told, "You must take physics and chemistry and calculus. If you survive those courses, then maybe you're cut out for engineering and you can do a design in your senior year." Perhaps we need to work with students to set more realistic expectations so that they arrive knowing that they will need to take the “building block” courses as a prerequisite. We should also work with institutions to help nurture the motivation and excitement that the entering students are bringing, and to effectively introduce realistic, authentic engineering.
In addition to this excitement, research has shown other important factors that can predict why a student will stay. For instance, students’ motivation and self-perceived leadership ability are indicators. These factors are often overlooked – things we don’t take advantage of when helping students carve out their pathway. Some in academia tend to think that students enter engineering for the job, but research shows the main reasons that students study engineering are for the chance to do a rewarding job and help society.
We can translate some of this knowledge to the work of the Center. As we introduce students to the tech field straight out of high school or with additional training, we want to harness their enthusiasm. Why are students going into tech? It's great to say, "Here's a job. It's going to be a good job, and it's going to be well-paying and pretty stable." While these are all things that people want, it’s not the main reason students express; in fact, it was number four behind priorities that were different versions of seeking a satisfying job and helping society. Students are going into tech-enable careers looking for an opportunity at a rewarding career. That’s vital for us to know. It must be part of the message.
I am excited to be part of the Center for Technology & Workforce Solutions (CTWS). For me, it's an opportunity to help people succeed in engineering specifically and technology in general. The best way to bring about success is being involved in the conversation. The more involved I can be, the more programs we can put together that lead to success.
Interested to learn more about CTWS, contact us!
Dr. Kenneth Reid is the Associate Professor, Engineering Education, Virginia Tech