Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date


Subject: LCSH

Adult students, Engineering students, Work-life balance


Engineering Education | Operations Research, Systems Engineering and Industrial Engineering


Our work is motivated by the need to cultivate a diverse group of talented future engineers. Adult undergraduate students over the age of 25 are an important source of engineers, with life experience that can enhance student experience, but not much is understood yet about this specific group. Adult students face challenges specific to their demographic due to responsibilities in other aspects of their life as employees, parents, spouses, and more. This paper examines adult engineering students’ conceptions of what an engineer is, across three distinct academic environments: a community college, a small private undergraduate university, and a large public research university. A semi-structured interview approach was used to collect data from adult students with prior engineering-related work experience. These data reveal strong similarities among the conception of what it means to be an engineer, despite differences in the demographic background and institutional context of the participants. There are differences in course load, employment status, and number of dependents among the sample populations at the three institutions. Participants from all institutions identified with occupational respect, application of knowledge to find solutions, benefiting society, and problem solving as important aspects of the engineering occupation. We conclude that a well-defined, accessible engineering support structure is instrumental in promoting students' conception of the engineering occupation. This work suggests opportunities to enhance professional identity development at institutions of multiple types through industrial collaboration and mentorship, policies and programs to support student-parents, and cooperative work opportunities that marry engineering education with engineering practice.


© 2016 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference.



Publisher Citation

Mikel, T. K., & Hoang, F., & Kim, P. S. H., & Carnasciali, M., & Ciston, S. (2016, June), What Does It Mean to Be an Engineer? A Comparison of Adult Students at Three Institutions. Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. doi:10.18260/p.27192