Preferred Name

Bethany H. Popelish

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


School of Communication Studies


Melissa W. Alemán

Jennifer PeeksMease

Robert Nagel


In a project-focused engineering program, undergraduate students are taught engineering skills through the ‘bike project’ in which students work as teams to design and fabricate a human-powered vehicle for a member of the community whose disabilities make riding a traditional bicycle prohibitive. To understand the learning that happens in the course of this project, the researcher conducted a 20-month ethnography of the engineering program, focusing on the sophomore students’ organizational experiences. As a participant observer, the researcher went to classes with the students, participated in trainings, and observed them through each stage of their project. Ethnographic observations were collected as fieldnotes which were analyzed through an iterative process with other members of the research team. Membership negotiation and sensemaking emerged as salient themes for understanding the events taking place among these undergraduate engineering students. The researcher draws on the scholarship of Communities of Practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991) and Communication as Constitutive of Organization (Putnam & Nicotera, 2009) to provide a framework and vocabulary that makes sense of these themes. Using narrative, the researcher addresses how students are negotiating their membership in the engineering department, their roles on teams, and their professional identities.



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