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Choice of Major and Career Aspirations of First-Year ECE Students

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

First-Year Programs: Deciding on a Major

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


J.W. Bruce Tennessee Technological University

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J.W. Bruce is with the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering at Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville, Tennessee USA

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Mahnas Jean Mohammadi-Aragh Mississippi State University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Jean Mohammadi-Aragh is an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Mississippi State University. Dr. Mohammadi-Aragh investigates the use of digital systems to measure and support engineering education, specifically through learning analytics and the pedagogical uses of digital systems. She also investigates fundamental questions critical to improving undergraduate engineering degree pathways. . She earned her Ph.D. in Engineering Education from Virginia Tech. In 2013, Dr. Mohammadi-Aragh was honored as a promising new engineering education researcher when she was selected as an ASEE Educational Research and Methods Division Apprentice Faculty.

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This “complete research” paper will describe a study of the career aspirations of first-year electrical & computer engineering students and its relationship with student choice of major.

Typically, university engineering study is categorized into specialty areas, e.g. civil, chemical, computer, electrical, mechanical, etc. Engineering students are asked to select a major in one of engineering specialty areas upon matriculation or soon thereafter. Previous research has shown that significant factors influencing choice of major for college students include (1) general interest subject; (2) family and peer influence; (3) assumptions about introductory courses, (4) potential job characteristics, and (5) characteristics of the major. The student's decision on choice of major is often difficult because traditional university-aged students have little to no direct experience with the engineering profession or practicing engineers. Some universities confront this problem with a common first-year engineering experience wherein engineering majors are given the opportunity to explore the specialty areas and make a more informed decision. Other institutions, including the authors', implement discipline-specific first-year experiences to allow students to learn targeted specialty area skills, and more immediately identify with their chosen specialty field. Regardless of the approach, the desire is that students find their professional path quickly to avoid delays in graduation and increased student debt.

The authors teach an introductory discipline-specific course in electrical and computer engineering (ECE), in which most students have declared their intended academic degree program. A small number of students enrolled have not declared their desired engineering program or are currently declared as some other non-engineering major. Furthermore, while the course used in this study is a freshmen/first-year introductory course, the course is required of both electrical (EE) and computer engineering (CmpE) programs. As a results, the course enrolls student classified as freshmen, sophomore, juniors, and seniors. The authors collected data on student career aspirations from almost 600 students over a four year period with a question that demanded an open-ended, free-form prose response. Students answered in their own words. The student responses have been analyzed with textual data mining techniques and several sentiment analysis algorithms to ascertain most common thoughts and ideas and basic sentiment of the student responses. ECE students were more likely to mention broad engineering concepts and specific corporate entities. Non-ECE majors were more likely to mention specific applications or technologies in their responses. Overall, the sentiment of the various groups examined were quite similar, with freshmen and EE being slightly more positive than others.

Bruce, J., & Mohammadi-Aragh, M. J. (2019, June), Choice of Major and Career Aspirations of First-Year ECE Students Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32506

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