Assessing students’ motivation to engage in sustainable engineering

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© Emerald Group Publishing Limited. Purpose – The purpose of this study was to design an assessment instrument to evaluate students’ attitudes toward sustainable engineering (SE). Factors that impact SE beliefs could then be explored. Design/methodology/approach – Using the definition of sustainability from the Brundtland report and expectancy value theory, students’ sentiment toward SE was evaluated using items to assess SE self-efficacy, SE value and SE affect. The survey was distributed at three diverse universities with 515 responses from students ranging from first year through graduate studies in a variety of engineering majors. The survey instrument was validated using principal components analysis, and internal reliability was established via high Cronbach’s alpha for each construct. Findings – Participation in more experiential, enriching learning experiences correlated to higher SE self-efficacy, value and affect. Extracurricular club involvement correlated with a lower self-efficacy but high SE value. Students who had participated in undergraduate research had a high SE self-efficacy, particularly in the environmental and social sub-scales. The students who participated in internships had high SE self-efficacy but lower SE affect. A greater number of volunteer hours correlated with increased SE affect. Female students possessed higher SE value and affect than male students, but self-efficacy was not significantly different. SE self-efficacy increased with academic rank. Originality/value – This is the first effort to measure engineering students’ attitudes toward SE using the three sub-scales of expectancy value theory and assessing correlations in these attributes with students’ participation in various learning experiences.

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International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education