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Board # 112 : Six Years of Freshman Retention Efforts: Where are We Now?

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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

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Paper Authors


Alan D. Niemi LeTourneau University

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Alan D. Niemi is a Professor of Electrical Engineering Technology at LeTourneau University. He received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering Technology from Lake Superior State University and his M.S.E.E. from Illinois Institute of Technology. He has taught courses in Electrical Engineering and Technology for 30 years. In addition to teaching, Professor Niemi has spent 7 years in industry designing digital and microcontroller systems.

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Jeff Johnson LeTourneau University

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Jeff Johnson is an Assistant Professor at LeTourneau University. He received his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering Technology from LeTourneau in 1994 then proceeded to spend 16 years in industry focusing on machine and civil design as well as project management. In 2010 he began his teaching career at his alma mater to share his experiences with engineering and technology students. He earned a masters in Engineering Project Management from Eastern Michigan University in 2014. He is currently a co-PI on the schools NSF-STEP retention grant.

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The <Named Project> has sought to increase engineering graduation rates from a five-year average of 42%, to 65% by increasing the 1st to 2nd year retention from 68% to 85%. Each year the <Named Project> efforts have included all of the roughly 140 “First time in college” (FTIC) students in <named> University’s Engineering and Engineering Technology programs. An internal study and best-practices literature review prompted several initiatives beginning in 2010: 1) implementing peer, faculty, and industrial mentoring for first-year students; 2) implementing an engineering “freshman experience” class; 3) implementing first-year engineering practice classes including professional topics and open-ended experimentation and design projects.

First-year Interest Groups (FIGs) of 8-10 similar-major students have been paired with peer mentors, faculty mentors, and in some cases, industrial mentors. These groups have synergized with existing university support structures, and have been the catalysts for several aspects of our program being adopted university-wide. Surveys over the years have indicated that both mentors and the students are largely positive about FIG group mentoring.

We built upon existing infrastructure to create an engineering flavor of the university’s “freshman experience” in which engineering faculty mentored FIG groups in a curriculum including time management and study skills. Over the years, this format has evolved from 25-30 students in a section, to the current format of 10 students in a section taught by their faculty mentor. This more personal setting, focusing on aspects of “how to thrive in college” has produced much higher student course evaluations.

First-year students have participated in two engineering practice courses which are designed to answer the question "what do engineers do?" The first course includes interactive classroom sessions on engineering practice and experiential lab modules exposing students to various fields of engineering. The second course includes engineering design with robotics and microcontroller platforms. A Freshman Engineering Pre/Post Survey has indicated the students’ scores improve sizably related to their awareness of, and commitment to, the engineering profession.

In addition to the positive results above indicating progress on grant sub-goals, one-year retention has increased by an average of over 5% after six years of the project. Also, the six-year graduation rate has increased by nearly 10%.

This executive summary, and associated poster, will provide details of the retention initiatives employed, and will present qualitative and quantitative assessment results of the project, with the intention of contributing our experiences and findings to the continuing dialogue on retention initiatives. This project has been supported by an NSF-STEP grant.

Niemi, A. D., & Johnson, J. (2017, June), Board # 112 : Six Years of Freshman Retention Efforts: Where are We Now? Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--27693

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