Colloquium - Geoff Potvin

Event information
Venue:GL 100B

Disciplinary Differences in Physical Science and Engineering Students' Aspirations and Self-Perceptions

Geoff Potvin Department of Engineering & Science Education Clemson University

For a number of years, a problem of major concern for continued growth and development in the U.S. has been the recruitment and retention of a larger and more diverse pool of students trained in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, with particular emphasis on the physical sciences and engineering. However, the self-perceptions, aspirations, and values of students intending to major in the physical sciences and engineering have not been well studied, particularly within engineering disciplines (where students are sometimes treated as a relatively homogeneous group despite educators' knowledge of the diversity of opportunities and technical specialties across these fields), which limits our ability to successfully expand the pool of STEM recruits. Moreover, initiates just starting their post-secondary education may not perceive disciplines as experts do: they may identify and find affinity for features of an engineering or science specialty that may not be consistent with practice. In this talk, I will present an analysis that explores differences between students who have expressed intentions to major in several different engineering disciplines as well as physics and chemistry. The data is drawn from a nationally-representative survey of 6772 students enrolled at 50 colleges and universities in the U.S. and includes information on students' backgrounds, high school experiences, career goals and personal values. The findings indicate substantial differences between students intending different STEM careers in terms of their outcome expectations, self-beliefs (performance/competency, interest, and recognition in: science-general, physics, and mathematics) and two measures of agency beliefs ("personal" and "global"). These results should inform the future recruitment of physical science and engineering majors by more effectively identifying for students the relevant features of a discipline and broaden recruitment efforts by allowing for the identification of potential scientists and engineers who might have been overlooked.


Geoff Potvin has been an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering & Science Education at Clemson University since 2008, and is the inaugural Graduate Coordinator of Clemson’s PhD in Engineering & Science Education. His current work is supported by NSF Grants # 1036617 and 1043707. He teaches courses in undergraduate mathematics and physics as well as graduate STEM education. Previously, he completed a doctorate in theoretical physics focusing on gravitational aspects of string theory at the University of Toronto and held a postdoctoral position in science education at the University of Virginia.