Purdue University Graduate School
Understanding_undergraduate_student_veteran_engineers__conceptualizations_of_success.pdf (7.09 MB)

Understanding undergraduate student Veteran engineers' conceptualizations of success

Download (7.09 MB)
posted on 2020-11-30, 16:50 authored by Matthew ScheidtMatthew Scheidt
Common measures of undergraduate engineering student success are primarily used to judge “traditional” undergraduate performance in school and may not be appropriate to gauge understanding or capabilities of non-traditional students, such as Student Veteran Engineers (SVEs), who may have additional familial and financial responsibilities that cause them to focus less on school than a traditional student. One path toward supporting undergraduate SVEs is by both understanding how they are different than other engineering students, and by understanding how they conceptualize success. Continued research in this area is needed and can lead to a positive impact on SVEs and benefit the engineering workforce.
This research builds on prior qualitative work that investigates the experiences of SVEs, including their military experiences and college experiences in engineering, as well as what shaped their decisions to be engineers. This convergent mixed method study gathered qualitative narrative interviews of five SVEs and analyze a large national survey of 2,339 engineering students (49 of which were SVEs). The results of these two data streams co-inform SVEs success in engineering.
The stories of five SVEs were constructed through narrative analysis and high-lighted how they conceptualized success, their experiences in engineering, and links between these stories. Success for SVEs was on a continuum from surviving engineering to a deep understanding of material. Within this range, some SVEs conceptualized success as accomplishing a small goal or large goals. Others also noted having the tools needed to accomplish a goal as a measure of success. It is important to consider these different conceptualizations of success from the SVEs, because while they may be in line with traditional measures of success (e.g., good grades and retention), they can be much more nuanced. Therefore, these results begin to highlight student conceptualizations of success, but more specifically from the Veteran engineering perspective.
In addition to the stories, a multivariate analysis of variance was used in conjunction with post-hoc testing to identify differences in SVEs and non-military peers on 28 non-cognitive and affective (NCA) factors. Taken together, these differences in NCA factors suggested that SVEs may be better prepared to succeed as engineers than their non-military peers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, SVEs had higher conscientiousness or a better ability to control, regulate, and direct their impulses. SVEs may be more likely follow instructions, strive for timely completion of assignments, and plan long-range goals. Consistent with this finding, SVEs had higher motivation measured by Future Time Perspective: Perceptions of Future than their peers. This dimension indicates that SVEs are more confident in their engineering major and plan to pursue an engineering career in the future. The SVEs in this sample also had high meaning and purpose in life, potentially improving their overall psychological well-being and potentially helping them to attain goals. Additionally, they had less test anxiety and lower reactions to stress, helping them to deal with engineering’s testing and stress culture. The quantitative findings indicate that SVEs have particular assets in engineering that may make them particularly successful. By understanding these assets and linking them to SVEs conceptualizations of success, broader measures can be used to define what it means to be successful in engineering.
Overall, this work highlights that SVEs can be different from their non-military peers in ways that set them up for particular kinds of success in engineering. Recognizing these differences can provide ways to support SVEs’ pathways through engineering and acknowledge multiple ways that SVEs can be successful. In general, SVEs may better suited to handle the stress associated with engineering. Another implication of this work is that it highlights the complexities associated with the SVE experience, both inside and outside of school. Their stories illustrated potential disconnects from more traditional students due to age and experiences. Additionally, SVEs may not find value in small assignments that do not directly help them to attain their goals. Understanding that SVEs may need to better understand the big picture or overall mission and be able to relate each portion of a course to accomplishing that mission, may improve their experience and performance.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Engineering Education

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Allison Godwin

Additional Committee Member 2

Ed Berger

Additional Committee Member 3

Jake Burdick

Additional Committee Member 4

Audeen Fentiman

Additional Committee Member 5

Brian Novoselich