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Assessing the Impact of an Interdisciplinary First-Year Experience Program

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

First-Year Programs: Monday Potpourri

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Amelia Chesley Purdue University

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Amelia Chesley is currently a PhD candidate in Rhetoric and Composition at Purdue University. She is interested in intellectual property, remix culture, transdisciplinarity, and online communities. Her dissertation research investigates the public curation and digitization work being performed by volunteers for the audiobook archive LibriVox.

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Nathan Mentzer Purdue University, West Lafayette (College of Engineering)

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Nathan Mentzer is an assistant professor in the College of Technology with a joint appointment in the College of Education at Purdue University. Hired as a part of the strategic P12 STEM initiative, he prepares Engineering/Technology candidates for teacher licensure. Dr. Mentzer’s educational efforts in pedagogical content knowledge are guided by a research theme centered in student learning of engineering design thinking on the secondary level. Nathan was a former middle and high school technology educator in Montana prior to pursuing a doctoral degree. He was a National Center for Engineering and Technology Education (NCETE) Fellow at Utah State University while pursuing a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction. After graduation he completed a one year appointment with the Center as a postdoctoral researcher.

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Dawn Laux Purdue Polytechnic Institute

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Dawn Laux is a Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Computer and Information Technology (CIT) at Purdue University. She has been with the University since 2007 and is responsible for teaching database fundamentals courses and introductory technology courses. Laux has 10 years of industrial experience in the information technology field, and her research area of interest includes technology readiness, the social impacts of technology, and increasing interest in the field of computing.

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Tejasvi Parupudi Purdue University


Asefeh Kardgar Purdue Polytechnic Institute, West Lafayette

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Asefeh Kardgar is currently a master student in Computer Graphics Technology at Purdue polytechnic Institute, West Lafayette.

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Sarah Knapp Purdue University

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Master of Architecture, Tulane University, New Orleans, LA
PhD Candidate, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN

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This research paper continues and builds upon an ongoing exploration of a large-scale, interdisciplinary course integration for first-year Technology majors. Our research begins to show that the program is making measurable differences to students’ learning, engagement, and sense of community. This course integration program grew out of the recognition that Technology students seem to struggle effectively expressing design ideas, while student work in English and Communication courses can sometimes seem to lack a realistic, meaningful context outside of the classroom. To address these concerns, and with a goal of enriching the first-year experience for students, administrators and instructors from 2 colleges within the university collaborated to organize and teach paired sections of Technology, English, and Communication courses. In each introductory design course, there are 40-45 students enrolled; of these, 20-25 are enrolled together in an introductory Communication course, and 20 are enrolled together in an introductory English course. All 3 classroom instructors in each set of sections work together within the Integrated First-Year Experience, which ultimately aims to tie essential skills and concepts from the humanities and STEM fields to realistic global problems and contexts. The program was implemented for more than 500 first-year students in each academic year (2015-16 and 2016-17). This research responds to questions about the potential for integrated courses to improve students’ conceptual learning and engagement with the university, and about the most effective ways for instructors and administrators to plan, support, and implement this kind of integration. Many types of first-year experiences and course integration programs at all levels of higher education have been implemented and carefully studied (Paretti, 2008; Bannerot, Kastor, & Ruchhoeft, 2010; Enke, 2011; Smith 2011; Gardner, 2013; Kellam et al., 2013; Rhee et al., 2014; Brizee & Langmead, 2014; Honey, Pearson, & Schweingruber, 2014). Much of this previous work has focused merely on integration within STEM fields, residential and academic learning communities, and Writing in the Disciplines initiatives. Research on these many types of integration confirms the potential for integrated and interdisciplinary curriculum to improve student learning and experience. Our integration program has built on and expanded the learning community model, applying similar principles of academic integration at a larger scale, with an aim of developing sustainable, long-term programmatic partnerships between disciplines. This presentation analyzes the effectiveness of such systemic, program-level integration and investigates specific improvements needed for the program to have the most advantageous impact on first-year Technology students. Honey, Pearson, & Schweingruber’s (2014) core principles of integration frame our analysis and assessment of the success of our program. We have collected data across 2 years of the program from student and instructor focus groups, anonymized student assignments from all 3 courses, and student responses to several surveys about their sense of community, motivation, level of engagement, and learning climate. Using this data, we explore what difference the program has made for students and instructors and ask whether and to what degree the formal integration of these courses has improved students’ learning, academic engagement, and sense of community. Data and analysis have also driven ongoing refinements to the structure and logistics of the interdisciplinary program. Feedback from instructors and students has informed the training of instructors for the Fall 2016 iteration of the Integrated First-Year Experience, and these changes will in turn be analyzed for their impact on student performance.

This research demonstrates the potential for interdisciplinary pedagogy generally and STEM–Humanities integration in particular to improve students’ perceived learning transfer, academic engagement, and sense of community. Our analysis so far has shown that students in more strongly integrated sections of the Technology course considered content from the course more relevant and useful for their future learning and careers. Students and instructors have both reported a stronger sense of community among those enrolled in the integrated versions of Technology, English, and Communication. Preliminary results have also shown that flexibility and clear communication among instructors is crucial for the successful integration of these 3 separate courses. The strengths and weaknesses of this Integrated First-Year Experience provide starting points for other institutions interested in designing and developing their own integrated, interdisciplinary programs.

References Bannerot, R., Kastor, R., & Ruchhoeft, P. (2010). Multidisciplinary Capstone Design at the University of Houston. Advances in Engineering Education 2(1), 1–33.

Brizee, A., & Langmead, J. (2014, June 14). Cross-disciplinary collaboration: Fostering professional communication skills in a graduate accounting certificate program. Across the Disciplines, 11(1). Retrieved from

Enke, K. A. E. (2011). Lasting Connections: A Case Study of Relationships Formed During a First-Year Seminar Course. Journal of The First-Year Experience & Students in Transition, 23(1), 75-102.

Gardner, A. F. (2013). Predicting Community College Student Success by Participation in a First-Year Experience Course. (Unpublished dissertation). Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, NC.

Honey, M., Pearson G., & Schweingruber, H. (Eds.). (2014). STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Kellam, N., Walther, J., Costantino, T., Dodd L., & Cramond, B. (2013). Integrating the Engineering Curriculum through the Synthesis and Design Studio. Advances in Engineering Education Winter 2013, 1–33.

Paretti, M. (2008). Teaching Communication in Capstone Design: The Role of the Instructor in Situated Learning. Journal of Engineering Education 97(4), 491-503.

Rhee, J., Oyamot, C., Parent, D., Speer, L., Basu, A., & Gerston, L. (2014). A Case Study of a Co-instructed Multidisciplinary Senior Capstone Project in Sustainability. Advances in Engineering Education Summer 2014, 1–29.

Smith, R. (2011). Learning Community Transitions in the First Year: A Case Study of Academic and Social Network Change. Journal of The First-Year Experience & Students in Transition, 23(2), 13–31.

Chesley, A., & Mentzer, N., & Laux, D., & Parupudi, T., & Kardgar, A., & Knapp, S. (2017, June), Assessing the Impact of an Interdisciplinary First-Year Experience Program Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--27626

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