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Assessing students’ motivation to engage in sustainable engineering

Mary McCormick (Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Tufts University, Medford, MA, USA)
Angela R. Bielefeldt (Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, CO, USA)
Christopher W. Swan (Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Tufts University, Medford, MA, USA)
Kurtis G. Paterson (Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, MichiganTechnological University, Houghton, MI, USA)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 2 March 2015




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.


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.


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.


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.



This material is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Numbers 0934567, 0935082 and 0935209. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


McCormick, M., Bielefeldt, A.R., Swan, C.W. and Paterson, K.G. (2015), "Assessing students’ motivation to engage in sustainable engineering", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 16 No. 2, pp. 136-154.



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Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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