Salt Lake City, Utah
June 23, 2018
June 23, 2018
July 27, 2018
Motivation In this evidence-based practice paper, we describe a joint effort by our university’s student affairs and engineering academic advising offices to create and implement a seminar course for first-year engineering students. For many years our university, as at many others, has held orientation activities for incoming students before the start of fall classes. Groups of eight to twelve first-year students in the same college are led by a peer adviser throughout the week as the students learn about university resources and enroll in courses. Four years ago, we noted anecdotally that many of these groups met together informally throughout the first year to support each other as they transitioned to college. Around the same time, student exit surveys showed that many engineering students were unhappy with the level of support that they received in the first year in areas like finding academic resources, choosing a major, and managing their workload.Instead, our first-year seminar has focused on increasing both connection to community and awareness of important opportunities and resources.
We were thus motivated to formalize the informal meetings of the orientation groups to ensure that all first-year engineering students could benefit from them and to include programming relevant to their experiences in engineering. The result is a required peer-led seminar that meets every other week throughout the first two quarters of the first year. This paper will describe the genesis and evolution of the course, challenges in implementation, and survey responses from students who have taken the course. By listening to student feedback we have been able to increase student satisfaction with the course and engineering as a whole.
Background First-year seminar courses are widely offered at U.S. universities and colleges. Their characteristics vary both in content (for example, extended orientation seminars versus discipline-linked seminars) and who leads them (faculty, graduate students, staff, or undergraduate upperclassmen). Whatever the structure of the seminar, the they are typically seen as a way to increase student retention and GPA. The literature, however, is mixed as to the effectiveness of seminars in bringing about these increases. At our university, engineering student retention to the second year is quite good (>80%) so we did not expect to see (nor did we try to measure) changes in retention or GPA. Instead, our first-year seminar has focused on increasing both connection to community and awareness of important opportunities and resources.
Methods and Assessment Peer advisers are selected and trained by student affairs staff with input from engineering faculty and staff in the spring and summer before orientation begins in the fall. Peer advisers are trained in student development theory and how to work with a diverse student body. During each quarter there are four required sessions for which the peer advisers receive more specific training from student affairs and engineering staff. Sessions for this year include Navigation and Time Management, Academic Culture and Strategies for Success, Fixed vs. Growth Mindset, Exploring or Changing Your Major, Alcohol Awareness, and Wellbeing. Past years have included other topics that have since been dropped based on feedback on their effectiveness from students and peer advisers.
Each quarter we have surveyed both first-year students and peer advisers to find which sessions were most effective, relevant, and timely. These surveys were done anonymously online and included multiple choice and Likert-scale questions and free response. Additionally, the peer advisers have been interviewed mid-quarter so that we can more closely monitor students and their response to the seminar topics.
Results Over the four years of student surveys, students have reported that the most valuable outcomes of the first-year seminar have been a feeling of support from their peer adviser (88% of responses in the most recent survey) and a sense of community with fellow first-year students (76%). The most valuable seminar topics have been academic strategies (72%) and major exploration (74%). Student satisfaction with these topics has increased as we have made changes to the methods used by the peer advisers to work with students. In short we have moved towards creating worksheets that give students a short list of action items to try (for example, specific study methods). Additionally over 50% of survey respondents indicated that their first-year seminar course supported their overall well-being during the first-year.
Bacon, H. K. K., & Birdwell, J. A., & Brown, O., & Tevaarwerk, E., & Freeman, R. W., & Roldan, W., & Gentry, K., & Pokryfky, A. R. (2018, June), Academic Advising and Student Affairs Working Together to Improve First-year Experience of Engineering Students Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. https://peer.asee.org/29746
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