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Acknowledging Unique Needs: Empowering Student Choice in the Creation of Their Pathway Through a First-year Experience Course

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

The Best of First-year Programs Division

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Frank J. Marsik University of Michigan

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Frank Marsik is the Faculty Director of First Year Student Engagement in Undergraduate Education within the University of Michigan, College of Engineering. He received his PhD from the University of Michigan. In addition to serving as the primary instructor for "Engineering 110: Design Your Engineering Experience", he also teaches a number of meteorology courses within the Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering and is the Director for an NSF-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates site program.

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Claudia G. Cameratti-Baeza University of Michigan

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At CRLT, Claudia works with the Foundational Course Initiative (FCI) as Pedagogy & Instructional Design Consultant. In this role, she partners with departmental instructional teams and fellow FCI consultants to support the University’s large introductory courses, create productive teaching and learning experiences, and improve equity across the institution.
Claudia Cameratti-Baeza earned her B.Sc. at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (Chile) in Educational Psychology in 200. Following that she completed her M.Sc. in Cognitive Development at Universidad Diego Portales (Chile). During the first years of her professional life, Claudia focused her work in teacher education and the creation of different resources to support the learning of teaching at different levels. In 2006 she became the associate director of faculty development at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile School of Engineering, where she led initiative oriented to improve instructional practices in engineering education. In 2011, she went to complete a Ph.D. in teaching and teacher education at the University of Michigan School of Education. During her Ph.D., Claudia enjoyed teaching and instructional design at the Ann Arbor Languages Partnership (A2LP), as well as participating in research groups exploring teacher learning and development.

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Elizabeth Mann Levesque University of Michigan

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Elizabeth Mann Levesque earned her B.A. and Ph.D. in political science at the University of Michigan. After completing her undergraduate degree, Elizabeth taught middle school social studies in Miami, FL as a Teach for America corps member. She returned to Michigan for her graduate studies where she specialized in American politics and political institutions and engaged in research on early childhood education and K-12 education policy. Her dissertation on presidential policymaking at the state level was recognized with a Rackham ProQuest Distinguished Dissertation Award, and as a Graduate Student Instructor Elizabeth received a John W. Kingdon Teaching Award from the Department of Political Science. Subsequently, as a fellow at the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, she studied a wide range of education policy issues, including civics education, employer and community college workforce development partnerships, and federal regulation related to the Every Student Succeeds Act. At CRLT, Elizabeth works on the Foundational Course Initiative as a student support and classroom climate consultant.

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Stacie Edington University of Michigan

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Stacie Edington is the Director of Honors and Engagement Programs within the University of Michigan, College of Engineering. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from the University of Michigan and her Master of Science in Executive Leadership from the University of San Diego. In addition to serving on the instructional team for ”Engineering 110: Design Your Engineering Experience”, she teaches the Engineering Honors Seminar, directs the College of Engineering Honors Program and oversees the Michigan Engineering Common Reading Experience.

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This complete evidence-based practice paper will discuss the transformation of an introductory engineering elective course, focusing on how the incorporation of choice supports the course learning goals. This analysis will provide insight into how choice may be leveraged within first-year engineering courses to foster self-authorship, decision-making, and the development of a Personal Action Plan.

ENGR 110: Design your Engineering Experience is an introductory, two-credit elective course that serves the first-year engineering class at the University of Michigan. The design of this introductory course helps foster student autonomy as students explore the breadth of opportunities available to engineers in both their education and careers. Students learn an engineering design process as a mechanism for making personal and academic decisions, and through a scaffolded course structure, choose exploration and engagement activities aligned with their goals and interests.

As part of the University of Michigan’s Center for Research on Learning and Teaching Foundational Course Initiative, ENGR 110 has undergone a course redesign process. A central motivation for this work is the recognition that first-year engineering students enter college with unique questions regarding their choice of engineering majors, co-curricular engagement and future career options. Investing in pedagogical practices that support student autonomy has been associated with positive impacts on student learning. As highlighted by Self-determination theory (SDT), when psychological needs like autonomy, competence, and relatedness are met through different learning activities, they function as a motivational asset, central to the development of a sense of belonging and persistence in engineering programs [1]. The transformation of ENGR 110 is informed both by the needs of first-year engineering students and pedagogical practices designed to foster autonomy.

The redesigned course addresses three themes: “What is Engineering?”, “Exploring Michigan and Michigan Engineering”, and “Self-Understanding”. Within these themes, students gain exposure to engineering disciplines, engineering contributions to society, the interdisciplinary nature of engineering, engineering as both a technical and social discipline, experiential learning opportunities, personal strengths, ethics, values, social identity, visioning and decision-making. The content that students explore within these themes is intended to encourage the development of self-authorship, a critical foundation to decision-making for first-year students [2]. At the end of the course, students design a Personal Action Plan for their educational experience at the University of Michigan.

The structure of the course has been substantially revised to align with these themes as part of the Foundational Course Initiative. The course includes two primary structural elements: synchronous, weekly discussion sections and asynchronous, self-paced online modules. This format is designed to provide choice within a well-defined structure and to support the course learning goals, particularly those related to self-authorship, decision-making, and the development of a Personal Action Plan.

The synchronous weekly discussion sections, led by near-peer mentors, provide structured opportunities for students to explore their interests, values, and goals while building a community of peers who are partaking in the same type of exploration. Within this supportive environment, students choose from a wide variety of asynchronous modules to explore the field of engineering. Students first complete a series of mandatory Foundation Modules that introduce students to core course themes. Students then proceed to the Exploration Modules and Engagement Modules. Importantly, students choose which Exploration and Engagement Modules to complete. Through Exploration Modules, students learn about engineering disciplines and experiential learning opportunities within the University of Michigan and the College of Engineering. Engagement Modules invite students to interactively investigate career and educational pathways through experiences such as interviewing faculty and alumni, attending field- and discipline-specific talks, and sitting in on upper-level courses. The course culminates with students writing a Personal Action Plan, in which students synthesize what they have learned by writing a vision for a future career and identifying a potential pathway through the University of Michigan and the College of Engineering aligned with this vision.

We will analyze the extent to which the content and structure of the redesigned course supports the course learning goals, with a particular focus on how choice shapes students’ experience in the course. Data will primarily consist of student responses to pre/post surveys fielded over the course of several semesters. We will also describe the ways in which these data informed course design decisions to contribute to student learning and achievement of course goals.

[1] H. Jang, E. J. Kim and J. Reeve, “Why students become more engaged or more disengaged during the semester: A self-determination theory dual-process model”. Learning and Instruction, vol. 43, pp. 27-38, Jun. 2016. [Online] Available: [Accessed September 16, 2019].

[2] M. Baxter Magolda and P. King, Eds. Learning Partnerships: Theory and Models of Practice to Educate for Self-Authorship. Sterling, Va.: Stylus, 2004.

Marsik, F. J., & Cameratti-Baeza, C. G., & Levesque, E. M., & Edington, S. (2021, July), Acknowledging Unique Needs: Empowering Student Choice in the Creation of Their Pathway Through a First-year Experience Course Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36641

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