Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Committee Member

Dr. Lisa Benson, Committee Chair

Committee Member

Dr. Geoff Potvin

Committee Member

Dr. Zahra Hazari

Committee Member

Dr. Gautam Bhattacharyya


This dissertation describes a sequential explanatory mixed methods study seeking to understand how engineering students’ long-term motivations influence present actions. Although academic performance is the most common indicator of student success, it does not take into account underlying motivations needed for students to effectively apply their intellectual resources. The first phase of the quantitatively examines the salient features of student motivation (e.g. ex-pectancy, value, and future time perspective) related to students’ long-term goals and short-term tasks. The second phase quantitatively examines what correlations, if any, exist between three factors of students’ moti-vation (expectancy of success in an engineering major, perceptions of their present as engineering students, and perceptions of their future as engineers) and problem solving performance during an introductory engi-neering course. The third phase examines motivation profiles of upper-level engineering students in major specific courses to create groups from which to recruit participants. Results of the first phase indicated that students’ expectancies and perceptions of the future differ-entiate students with different long-term goals. The second phase indicated that student perceptions of the future are correlated to steps undertaken in engineering problem solutions. Upper-level engineering students were differentiated into groups based on their expectancies, problem solving self-efficacy, and perceptions of the present and future. In the fourth phase, students were interviewed about their long-term goals and actions taken in the present. This phase extends previous work to include rich descriptions of engineering students’ experiences with their future time perspectives (FTP). Themes from the data indicated some students’ FTPs had goals defined far into the future while others had no specific goals beyond graduation. Highly defined FTPs showed development of plans beyond graduation with high career specificity. Additionally, students’ defined futures assisted in creating higher value for present tasks, and increased performance and persistence on tasks seen as connected. Understanding relationships between student motivation and present action can help engineering educators increase interest in engineering and prepare students to become effective engineers. The final phase of this work examines student perceptions of engineering problem solving and how their motivations may influence these perceptions. Results indicate that student perceptions of problem solv-ing may in fact be driven by their motivations across time scales. Additionally, students valuation of engi-neering problems may be based on student adapted cultural perceptions of engineering problems and not their cones.



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