The Role of Engineering Skills in Development
DeBoer, Jennifer Jean
In this dissertation, I examine the mechanisms that create qualified engineers. I am motivated by the important role that engineers play in the economic and social development of nations around the world. First, I ask whether the use of computers in formal and informal settings leads to higher problem solving achievement for low-income high school students. I use propensity score matching with PISA to recover causal estimates of the effect of computer use. Paper two highlights the in- and out-of-school factors that lead to engineering achievement for college students in Brazil. It uses a large national sample of first- and final-year students in one of the first rigorous quantitative estimates of the effects of inputs for higher education achievement. Paper three adds vital qualitative perspective to the other two secondary datasets and follows chronologically, investigating the post-college plans of engineers from South Africa. I gather new data (a survey I have designed) to determine the predictors of the pursuit of a local or global engineering career. Paper one finds that school use of computers has a positive effect on problem-solving achievement in the two large, diverse, high-income countries studied; home use has no effect or a negative effect; and use “elsewhere” is positive at low levels of use. Paper two finds that a student's home environment and the schooling she was exposed to before college predict her score, even within institutions. University factors also matter—there is growth from first to final year, and factors such as large classes and reports of bad teachers are related to lower scores. Paper three finds that, while engineering students are intrinsically motivated, unless they have exposure to hands-on opportunities in relevant local engineering, they personally are not motivated to work in that space. This dissertation makes contributions in its focus on social context, its employment of novel datasets, its introduction of the theoretical concept of technological capital, and its implications for policy. If barriers within the engineering pipeline are removed for underserved students and incentives to persist into relevant engineering practice are increased, these students will access, apply, and benefit from technological capital.