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Characterizing Student Music Preference and Engineering Major Choice

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

First-year Programs Division Technical Session 16: That Important Decision - Which Engineering Major?

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.347.1 - 26.347.21



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Paper Authors


Frank Blubaugh Purdue University

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Frank Blubaugh is a graduating senior in Multidisciplinary Engineering at Purdue University. He has a diverse academic background in acoustical engineering, education, and music performance.

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Joyce B. Main Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Joyce B. Main is an Assistant Professor in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. She holds a Ph.D. in Learning, Teaching, and Social Policy from Cornell University, and an Ed.M. in Administration, Planning, and Social Policy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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Student Music Preference and Engineering Major ChoiceWhat role does music preference play in engineering students’ sense of belonging andsubsequent major selection? Music penetrates all aspects of modern society, including academicsettings—students wear concert t-shirts showcasing their favorite music artists, instructors playmusic during class to promote a particular learning environment, groups of students listen tomusic as they work together on a project. Previous research has linked musical preference topersonality and values, both of which correlate to social identity, and to a lesser extent, academicstudy habits. Pierre Bourdieu's landmark text La Distinction also asserts that social classinfluences judgments of taste and choices in cultural activities. Thus, musical preference may beconsidered a proxy for diversity in the broad dimensions of experiences and social class. Thereare, however, few studies examining the role of music in the academic outcomes ofpostsecondary students. Thus, the goal of this study is to examine student music preference as amediating factor in engineering students’ sense of belonging and major choice.Empirical data include over 1,800 survey responses from freshman engineering students at alarge research institution. The survey includes questions regarding the student’s musicalpreferences, as well as the student’s perceptions of their peers’ music preferences. Other questiontopics include activities students undertake while listening to music—contextual activities toindicate whether the student uses music as a social tool or as an isolation technique in academiccontexts. Methods include descriptive statistics and regression analyses. Research findings willhelp to shed light on the diversity of engineering students, beyond more visible demographicfactors, and how diversity in taste and musical preference may influence the composition ofstudents in the different engineering disciplines—chemical, mechanical, electrical, industrial.The findings also have potential implications for how students’ sense of belonging measuredthrough music plays a role in the recruitment and persistence of students in engineering fields ofstudy. With the nation’s call for more diverse engineering professionals, engaging musicpreference may provide a unique approach to broadening participation in engineering.

Blubaugh, F., & Main, J. B. (2015, June), Characterizing Student Music Preference and Engineering Major Choice Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23686

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