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Title: The social construction of professional shame for undergraduate engineering students
Abstract Background

Shame is a deeply painful emotion people feel when they perceive that they have fallen short of socially constructed expectations. In this study,professional shamerefers to shame experiences that stem from people's perceptions that they have failed to meet expectations or standards that are relevant to their identities in a professional domain. While socially constructed expectations placed on engineering students have been implicitly addressed in the engineering education literature, they have rarely been the subject of specific inquiry.


As part of a broader study on professional shame in engineering, we investigated the co‐construction of social worlds that place expectations on engineering students.


We conducted 10 ethnographic focus groups with undergraduate engineering students from two universities. These groups were either heterogeneous or homogeneous, regarding racial and gender identity, to examine multiple social realities.


We present significant findings related to engineering students' collective noticing, defining, and experiencing of social worlds. The findings give a sense of overlapping but distinct social realities among student groups and highlight how failing to meet expectations can contribute to deeply painful emotional responses. We also note when students' responses reproduce, resist, or redefine the broader cultural norms in which the students are embedded.


The study has implications more » for the theoretical exploration of shame, engineering education research on identity and diversity and inclusion, and the messaging and interactions in which the engineering education community engages.

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Award ID(s):
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Journal of Engineering Education
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
p. 861-884
Wiley Blackwell (John Wiley & Sons)
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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