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A Cross Institutional Comparison Of Educational Factors Promoting Or Discouraging The Intent To Remain In Engineering

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Issues of Persistence in Engineering

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.23.1 - 14.23.11



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Paper Authors


Peggy Meszaros Virginia Tech

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Peggy S. Meszaros is the William E. Lavery Professor of Human Development and Director of the research Center for Information Technology Impacts on Children, Youth, and Families at Virginia Tech.

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Catherine Amelink Virginia Tech

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Catherine serves as the Assessment Coordinator for the Division of Student Affairs at Virginia Tech.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

A Cross-Institutional Comparison of Educational Factors Promoting or Discouraging the Intent to Remain in Engineering

Introduction Interest in the declining numbers of U.S. students choosing careers in science, mathematics and engineering (SME) emerged as a topic for discussion in the 1980’s. Numerous reports documented this early decline and called attention to the need to understand reasons for and to prevent migration out of SME fields. 1, 2 Gender losses were observed by Astin and Astin1 to be greater among men, but given the greater proportional loss of women, their under-representation was magnified during the undergraduate years. Confounding this overall decline was the observation that SME losses came from a pool of disproportionately able undergraduates. 3, 4, 5 Efforts to identify the causes of student migration out of SME courses and measures to improve outcomes have continued over two decades with various steps taken such as the revitalization of science teaching at the high school level, improvements in undergraduate teaching of SME courses in college, attempts to raise the respectability and prestige of college teaching, and investigations to understand the differences in retention and completion rates in smaller, selective colleges versus larger research institutions.6,7,8

Prior to 1990 there were no studies that took a comprehensive approach to understanding the attrition among both male and female undergraduates in SME majors. Two national data bases, National Longitudinal Survey and the High School and Beyond Report, found two main reasons for attrition out of SME: students found non-SME majors more attractive and the SME work too difficult. 9 These findings led to more questions to fully understand what made other majors more attractive and exactly what was too hard about SME courses? Various approaches were taken to investigate the reasons for SME attrition. Seymour and Hewitt identified five bodies of research which attempted to understand how students process their experiences in SME classes and the conditions under which they are successful. 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 In one of these studies, Manis and her colleagues interviewed high ability women deciding not to enter science majors; women who entered them and then left; women who remained through to senior year; and matched samples of men. 13 They found negative experiences in SME classes as a major contributor to discouraging the continuation in SME majors. Characteristics such as poor teaching or organization of material, hard or confusing material, loss of confidence in ability to do science, cut-throat competition in assessment systems or “weed out” philosophies, dull subject matter, and grading systems that did not reflect what students felt they had accomplished were reasons given by females for leaving SME majors. The competitive atmosphere, the grading system, and the dullness of subject matter was much less troubling for males in the same study. These findings illustrate discouraging factors for retention related to classroom climate and activities and begin to paint a more comprehensive picture of obstacles to retention. Do these same factors vary by institutional type?

To more fully understand the institutional context for discouraging and encouraging factors for SME retention, Seymour and Hewitt designed a multi-institutional

Meszaros, P., & Amelink, C. (2009, June), A Cross Institutional Comparison Of Educational Factors Promoting Or Discouraging The Intent To Remain In Engineering Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--4613

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