Purdue University Graduate School

Engineering Thriving Dissertation

Reason: Chapter 4 (SEM study) contains content for a journal manuscript not yet published.

Beyond Surviving: Developing and Testing a Model of Thriving for Engineering Students

posted on 2021-07-27, 14:56 authored by Julianna GesunJulianna Gesun
The goal of my dissertation is to take a step toward shifting the narrative in engineering from “surviving” to “thriving” so that more engineering students can reach their full potential in college and beyond. Many engineering students experience barriers such as the hardships of engineering culture, which are exacerbated for women and underrepresented racial/ethnic minorities(such as Black, Latinx, and Indigenous students). These barriers are well documented in research and well discussed in interventions to support engineering student success, under the assumption that helping students cope with these cultural and systemic barriers will, by itself, lead to their success. My research on engineering thriving challenges this assumption by asserting that the skills engineering students need to succeed academically, socially, and personally differ from the skills they need to “survive” cultural and systemic barriers.

This dissertation employs an exploratory multiphase research design, with three studies, to develop a model of thriving for undergraduate engineering students. The first study consists of a scoping literature review of 68 papers to define and characterize engineering thriving as the process in which engineering students develop and refine competencies that allow them to function optimally in engineering programs. From this definition, the second study employs a Delphi process with 47 experts to develop a model of engineering thriving that includes 1) internal thriving competencies; 2) external thriving outcomes; 3) engineering culture, systemic factors, resources, context and situation; and 4) how these three broader categories function together. The third study tests some of these relationships proposed in the model of engineering thriving using structural equation modeling(SEM) on a large dataset of responses by over 2,000 undergraduate U.S. engineering students to a survey that measured various constructs associated with thriving. Findings from the SEM analysis suggest that gratitude was one of the most important competencies for engineering student thriving, and that a holistic model approach accounted for 79% of the variance in engineering students’ belongingness and 25% of the variance in perceptions of faculty caring(two external thriving outcomes).

Understanding and supporting more engineering thriving has positive implications for students, recruitment and outreach, and engineering programs. Thriving is multidimensional and, thus, supporting engineering students to achieve traditional success metrics (such as academic performance and graduation) goes hand in hand with supporting their personal and social development and wellbeing. Recruitment and outreach of K-12 students can benefit from viewing engineering as an attractive and inspirational career, combating negative stereotypes that currently deter students from pursuing engineering. Engineering programs can benefit from developing a reputation and culture of thriving. However, cultural change requires the collective investment from all members of the engineering community.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Engineering Education

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Edward Berger

Additional Committee Member 2

Allison Godwin

Additional Committee Member 3

Michael Loui

Additional Committee Member 4

John Froiland