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Comparing Entering Freshman Engineers: Institutional Differences In Student Attitudes

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1999 Annual Conference


Charlotte, North Carolina

Publication Date

June 20, 1999

Start Date

June 20, 1999

End Date

June 23, 1999



Page Count


Page Numbers

4.133.1 - 4.133.12

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Paper Authors

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Magaly Moreno

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Mary E. Besterfield-Sacre

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Larry J. Shuman

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Cynthia Atman

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 1430

Comparing Entering Freshman Engineers: Institutional Differences in Student Attitudesi Mary Besterfield-Sacre and Magaly Moreno University of Texas – El Paso

Larry J. Shuman University of Pittsburgh

Cynthia J. Atman University of Washington


EC 2000 will cause engineering educators to learn more about their students. This includes hav- ing a more informed understanding of students’ underlying attitudes as they begin their engi- neering studies and tracking how these attitudes affect learning. Previous research indicates that students enter their first year with a range of perceptions and attitudes about engineering. How- ever, little is known as to how student attitudes vary across institutions. Are initial attitudes cor- related with the type of school the individual attends? Do students who attend a private (versus public), or large (versus small) engineering school enter with different perceptions of engineer- ing and their abilities to succeed in engineering? Do students’ choice of environment (urban ver- sus rural) and the subsequent culture it provides or whether the institution has a “research” (ver- sus “teaching”) focus contribute to their initial attitudes about engineering and about themselves? Such knowledge is important since attitudinal differences among institutions may help to explain differences in academic performance, interest in the engineering pedagogy, and attrition out of or persistence in the program. We have investigated such differences among the freshman classes of 17 US engineering schools.


Prior research indicates that the attitudes freshman engineering students have about themselves and about engineering provide valuable information for both better understanding student aca- demic performance and for assessing major engineering program changes. Utilizing the Pitts- burgh Freshman Engineering Attitudes Survey (PFEAS), we have conducted extensive research on different aspects of freshman engineers’ initial attitudes and their changes over the course of the first year, first at the University of Pittsburgh and now at over seventeen US engineering schools. Our previous research has found that initial attitudinal differences are attributable to the students’ gender and ethnic background [1, 2]. The PFEAS has also been used to evaluate innova- tive changes to several freshman engineering curriculums [3]. Our research has confirmed what others have found; i.e., student attitudes are related to freshman retention in engineering. Our closed-form instrument also has been used to develop empirical models for identifying (before i This research is supported by a grant from the Engineering Information Foundation, 98-4 and National Science Foundation grant, EEC-9872498, Engineering Education: Assessment Methodologies and Curricula Innovations.

Moreno, M., & Besterfield-Sacre, M. E., & Shuman, L. J., & Atman, C. (1999, June), Comparing Entering Freshman Engineers: Institutional Differences In Student Attitudes Paper presented at 1999 Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina.

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