Work in Progress: Identifying factors that impact student experience of engineering stress culture

Joseph Francis Mirabelli, Andrea J. Kunze, Julianna Ge, Kelly J. Cross, Karin Jensen

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


In this work-in-progress research paper, we explore how the culture of undergraduate engineering students' departments or fields can have far-reaching effects on their success and experiences. Engineering culture has been previously described as unique compared to other disciplines, where heavy workloads and high expectations create an environment of suffering and shared hardship [1]. This negative culture has been described as particularly unwelcoming to women and minorities [2, 3] and may result in exacerbated difficulties for underrepresented groups in engineering. For these reasons, we propose that it will be critical to understand not only how students perceive this culture but also the factors that impact student experiences of engineering culture. The current work is part of a larger study to understand students' experiences within the Engineering Stress Culture (ESC) that examines student perceptions of stress as part of engineering culture through the lens of social identity theory. We have previously described correlative relationships between measures of engineering identity, inclusion, and mental health problems for engineering undergraduate students [4]. In the current work, we seek to answer the following research question: How do engineering students describe the relationship between stress and engineering culture? Through qualitative interviews, the current project seeks to explore the characteristics of these relationships and describe how students perceive stress as a part of engineering culture. We interviewed thirty undergraduate engineering students who reported particularly high or low levels of engineering identity relative to other students in their department. The semi-structured interviews were designed based on previously conducted quantitative survey results to understand how students describe the relationships between stress, anxiety, depression, engineering identity, and inclusion. The objective of the interviews was to understand how engineering students experience stress and whether they perceive stress as part of their discipline. The researchers asked students to define characteristics and stressors common to engineering students and professionals. In order to understand how students cope with stress, the researchers asked participants to describe coping strategies they had utilized and to assess why these strategies were healthy or unhealthy. We also asked students about their experiences using campus resources and interacting with faculty and peers on issues related to mental health. Lastly, the researchers asked students to describe stress in engineering and how stress affects their individual experience. Through inductive thematic analysis of interview transcripts, our study sought to identify factors that mediate engineering students' perceptions of identity, stress, and inclusion. Through our analyses, discipline and department-specific attributes emerged as contributors to engineering student identity, stress, and perceptions of inclusion. Further, the analyses illuminated the relationships between these dimensions and synthesized how these experiences are part of a greater ESC. Study design, data collection, and preliminary data are presented.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1689
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

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Engineering


Dive into the research topics of 'Work in Progress: Identifying factors that impact student experience of engineering stress culture'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this