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Adult Undergraduate Engineering Student Experience

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Understanding Our Students II

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.136.1 - 25.136.23



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Paper Authors


Shannon Ciston University of California, Berkeley

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Shannon Ciston is a lecturer of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. She has experience teaching chemical, environmental, and multidisciplinary engineering fundamentals as well as technical communications. Ciston's research interests include affective and experiential aspects of student learning, and impacts of nanomaterials on aquatic biofilms.

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Maria-Isabel Carnasciali University of New Haven Orcid 16x16

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Maria-Isabel Carnasciali is Assistant Professor of mechanical engineering at the Tagliatela School of Engineering, University of New Haven, Conn. She obtained her Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Georgia Tech in 2008. Her undergraduate degree is from MIT from the Mechanical Engineering Department, received in 2000.
Current engineering education research focuses on understanding the non-traditional student experience as well as assessing the impact of exposure to metacognition
ideas/skills. Other research interests involve validation of CFD models for aerospace applications as well as optimizing efficiency of thermal-fluid systems.

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Viktoria Zelenak University of New Haven

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Michael J. Hollis U.S. Air Force Academy

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Adult Undergraduate Engineering Student ExperienceEfforts to remain competitive internationally in engineering and technology require thatengineering departments train a diverse set of talented students. One aspect of student diversitythat is often overlooked is student age. Adult learners are an important source of futureengineering professionals, and it is critical that these students are supported through degreecompletion. Because relatively little research has focused on adults as a special populationamong engineering students, this study aims to elucidate adult engineering student experience.Qualitative interview data was chosen as the means to collect rich information about the livedexperience of adult engineering students, providing depth that would not be accessible throughquantitative data. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with ten undergraduate studentsaged 25 or older, focusing on their experience pursuing engineering bachelor’s degrees at asmall, private northeastern university. Interviews were transcribed and analyzed by applyinggrounded theory to identify major themes and connections. The four major themes identified inthe data are: motivations, barriers, strategies, and outcomes. Adult students have a wide varietyof motivations related to supporting themselves and their families, personal challenge andachievement, and intrinsic interest in or identification with engineering. Major barriers tocompleting their degree work include time and financial stresses; barriers which prevented themfrom undertaking engineering degree work earlier in their lives include family means andexpectations, and confidence in math and science. Strategies for overcoming obstacles aretailored to the barriers they experience, but commonly include sleep reduction and seekingacademic and financial assistance from multiple sources. These adult students cite positiveoutcomes including the development of professional skills including time management, conflictresolution, and trouble-shooting. In this paper, we will discuss the findings of our analysis, aswell as connections between our study and related work in expectancy-value theory and adultstudent inter-role conflict. Future work aims to expand data collection to multiple sites, and tocomplement it with quantitative survey data. By understanding the motivations and experiencesof adult engineering students, we aim to provide better service to this important part of thestudent body.

Ciston, S., & Carnasciali, M., & Zelenak, V., & Hollis, M. J. (2012, June), Adult Undergraduate Engineering Student Experience Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--20896

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