Self-Awareness of Student Leaders in an Experiential Undergraduate Engineering Clinic Program

Published in American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Annual Conference & Exposition, 2017

The Harvey Mudd engineering clinic program created in 1963 seeks to educate engineering students by providing them real-world, hands-on experience working on an industry or government project. A team of students work with the sponsor to solve a designated problem, where teams are comprised of four to six junior and senior undergraduate members with one senior student acting as team leader. The team leader is responsible for supervising, budgeting, documenting, running meetings, and dealing with personnel problems. Teams and their faculty advisors decide to have one, two, or three team leaders throughout the year-long course of the project.

Because increased self-awareness makes a leader more effective, this study seeks to better understand the self-awareness of leaders in the program by looking at their perception of their leadership style compared to the style their team perceives them to be using. Surveying 29 leaders and their team members (56% of all engineering clinic teams) with a numerical ranking of six leadership styles adapted from the Tannenbaum-Schmidt Continuum of Leadership Behavior (1-tell, 2-sell, 3-test, 4-consult, 5-join, 6-delegate) revealed that 5 leaders saw themselves closer to the delegate-end of the continuum than their team saw them, 11 were closer to the tell-end, and 13 perceived themselves to be using the same style as the team perceived. This means that 55% of leaders surveyed were classified as “not self-aware.”

This lack of self-awareness of leadership styles aligns with the tendency for Harvey Mudd students to underestimate their own performance and indicates that the clinic program would benefit from additional leadership training for clinic team leaders. Based on the need established by these results, the clinic program is strengthening the management course offerings, beginning a mandatory leadership and management training course for junior team members, and providing monthly leadership training sessions to current team leaders.

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Recommended citation: Lupanow, Jessica and Remer, Donald, “A Comparison of Expressed and Desired Leadership Styles in an Experiential Undergraduate Engineering Clinic Program,” 2018 American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Annual Conference & Exposition, June 2018.