James Welch


This study extends the knowledge of the problem-solving frameworks and skills used by graduating engineers (GE). The frameworks are comprehensive systematic processes that a GE uses to frame the problem. The problem-solving skills are mental and physical mechanisms, such as heuristics and flow charts. An in-depth qualitative study of 31 randomly selected graduating engineers from a state university was employed to obtain firsthand data on how GEs solved a specific problem scenario. The methodology of this study was an open running dialog between the researcher and the GE while the GE solved the standardized problem scenario. A one-sentence problem scenario was provided. The GE asked questions of the researcher throughout the process. The researcher responded with an established set of answers. The researcher timed and coded the GE's responses. The running dialogue was coded utilizing the problem-solving frameworks and skills for each of the 31 GEs. Time ranged from 1 minute and 10 seconds to 9 minutes and 48 seconds. Of the GEs, 90% utilized 2 or 3 of the 4 types of frameworks in different combinations. However, 1 student applied only 1 framework and 2 students utilized all 4 frameworks. The 5 GEs who most rapidly solved the problem used different combinations of the frameworks. The evaluation step in any of the 4 frameworks was not implemented by 48% of the GEs. The choice of frameworks did not appear to be related to gender, age, or experience. The analysis indicated that the GEs also used different arrangements of problem-solving skills. The GEs employed all 5 categories of problem-solving skills: tools, defining, goal-identification, heuristics, and reasoning. Of the GEs, 100% utilized the skills termed tools, defining, and goal-identification. The heuristic problem-solving skills were used by 97% and the reasoning skills were used by 26% of the GEs. All of the GEs required a wide range of problem-solving frameworks and skills in order to solve effectively the problem scenario. Thus, engineering educators should provide student engineers with a wide range of frameworks and skills of problem-solving in order to provide a strong basis for their future work.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Engineering students; Problem solving; Dissertations (EdD) -- Organizational leadership

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Hiatt-Michael, Diana B.