Engineering capital: a theoretical and empirical model of engineering learning, diversity and participation

Rory McDonald

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Despite longstanding recognition and substantial investment, issues of poor diversity and inclusion continue to impact educational and career pathways for engineering. Given that solutions to global challenges such as the climate crisis are dependent on the engineering profession, we might see these issues of participation as an existential threat to our global resilience. Whilst engineering educational research traditionally focuses on further or higher education there is growing recognition that earlier experiences are vital in shaping identity and later participation with subjects such as engineering.

This paper introduces a new model of engineering participation to provide a fresh and pragmatic perspective on participation, diversity and inclusion. The model adopts a critical position to consider the deeper and unique characteristics of engineering and questions the utility of past approaches and pedagogies which assume that support for ‘science’ or ‘STEM’ will translate into support for engineering. This perspective considers engineering more keenly than previous approaches and identifies a richer array of learning experiences that shape later diversity of engineering participation including societal, historical, cultural, curricular, and non-curricular influences.

This model goes beyond simplistic descriptions of engineering diversity and inclusion to access the deeper underlying mechanics of influence that shape future engineers. Empirical evidence from over 900 secondary school-aged students in the UK is used to validate this model and identify what experiences shape the differing engineering aspirations of young people. These findings explore who are supported to become engineers and potential pedagogical reforms to widen participation.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 8th International Symposium for Engineering Education
Place of PublicationGlasgow
PublisherUniversity of Strathclyde
Number of pages9
ISBN (Print)9781914241208
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2022


  • engineering learning
  • educational trajectory
  • learner resources
  • engineering pedagogy
  • engineering capital


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