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A Qualitative Study Investigating How First-Year Engineering Students' Value Beliefs Influence their Choice of Selecting an Engineering Major

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

First-Year Programs Division Technical Session 9: Evaluating and Measuring Recruiting and Major Selection Strategies

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Juan David Ortega Universidad EAFIT, Medellin - Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Juan David Ortega Álvarez is an assistant professor at Universidad EAFIT and served as the Head of the Process Engineering Department from 2010 to 2014. He holds an MS in Process Engineering and Energy Technology from Hochschule Bremerhaven (Germany) and is currently enrolled as a graduate student in the Engineering Education Doctoral Program at Purdue University. Before his full-time appointment with EAFIT, he served as Engineering Director for a chemical company for 7 years. His research interests are focused on the practice and teaching of process design, simulation and control and also on faculty and institutional development through engineering education research.

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S. Zahra Atiq Purdue University, West Lafayette

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S. Zahra Atiq is a PhD student at the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University, West Lafayette. Her research interests include: computer science education specifically on teaching computer programming to undergraduates and how to improve their learning experiences. She is also interested in understanding student behaviors and performance in online learning environments specifically MOOCs.

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Hector Enrique Rodriguez-Simmonds Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Raised in South Florida, born in Mexico. Half Colombian and half Mexican; proud Mexilombian. Héctor has an MS in Electrical and Computer Engineering and is currently pursuing a PhD in Engineering Education, both from Purdue University. His research interests include investigating LGBTQIA+ engineering student perception's of the culture of engineering. He's an avid videographer, eater of tasty food, moped enthusiast, and user/tweaker of computers.

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First year engineering (FYE) programs are gaining popularity across universities in the United States. In addition to providing general engineering knowledge and skills to undergraduate freshmen, FYE programs also provide students with diverse opportunities to help them select the engineering discipline they will further pursue. The 2014 cohort of the FYE program of a large Midwestern university was the sample used for a two-phased study. The aim of the study was to understand how students make informed decisions of which engineering major to pursue and to help FYE administration to improve the resources they provide students. The first phase of the study focused on understanding the sources of information students used to make their decision. A preliminary analysis of student surveys indicated that the most important activity they are performing to select a major is “Self-Led Exploration” (SLE) of engineering disciplines. To understand SLE in detail, we conducted semi-structured interviews, which helped us unpack the meaning of SLE.

This paper focuses on the second part of the study, which aims to qualitatively answer the research question: How do students’ value beliefs influence their decision of which engineering major to pursue? Answers to open ended questions from FYE surveys also served to inform this second study. Moreover, a brief examination of both the interviews and the surveys suggested a possible overlapping between the sources students used to inform their decision and the reasons why they selected a particular major. From that overlap, a secondary research question emerged: What is the relation between students’ value beliefs of the engineering disciplines and the type of sources they use to inform their decision of a major?

For the interviews, we performed purposeful sampling to mirror demographic characteristics of the population of FYE at the university in terms of gender. From this group 12 students volunteered to participate in our study. The interview protocol was pilot tested, the interviews were audio recorded and their average duration was 20 minutes. The audio files were transcribed and for anonymity the student names were converted to pseudonyms. The transcripts were coded by two researchers independently using the constant comparative method. Lincoln and Guba’s approach to the constant comparative method facilitated us in developing themes related to the reasons behind students selections of certain engineering disciplines.

To analyze our transcripts we used Eccle’s expectancy-value theory. This theory states that choices to perform a task are motivated by 2 things: 1) An individual’s belief that they can perform a task, and 2) An individual’s desire to undertake a task. In previous work we found student’s value beliefs were linked to their use of SLE in choosing an engineering discipline to study. We hypothesize that students’ value beliefs, how well a task aligns with their personal values, goals, and needs, influences their career choice and the type of resources they use to inform themselves.

Ortega, J. D., & Atiq, S. Z., & Rodriguez-Simmonds, H. E. (2016, June), A Qualitative Study Investigating How First-Year Engineering Students' Value Beliefs Influence their Choice of Selecting an Engineering Major Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26417

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