Asee peer logo

Comparing First-year Student Attitudes towards Engineering across a Liberal Arts University

Download Paper |


2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

First Year Engineering

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.310.1 - 23.310.14



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Rick Olson University of San Diego

visit author page

Rick T. Olson is Associate Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering at the University of San Diego. He teaches a broad range of classes at USD including first-year engineering, a core engineering statistics, and operations research and senior design to ISyE majors. His research interests lay in engineering student persistence, and applied operations research. He is active in outreach activities targeting underrepresented populations and has received NSF funding to support U.S. military veterans, community college transfer students, and innovative engineering math education. He has a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering, and M.S. in Industrial Engineering, and a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering with emphasis in Operations Research from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

visit author page


Truc T. Ngo University of San Diego

visit author page

Dr. Truc Ngo is an Assistant Professor of Industrial & Systems Engineering at the University of San Diego. Her research interests are in the areas of green materials and processes involving polymers and composites, organic semiconductors, and supercritical fluids. Dr. Ngo received her Bachelor’s in 1997 and Doctor of Philosophy in 2001, both in Chemical Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia. Before joining the University of San Diego, she had worked as a Senior Process Engineer at Intel Corporation in Hillsboro, Oregon and Santa Clara, California for nearly three years. She had also taught in the Engineering & Technologies Department at San Diego City College as an Associate Professor for five years, where she established the Manufacturing Engineering Technology program.

visit author page


Susan M Lord University of San Diego

visit author page

Susan M. Lord received a B.S. from Cornell University and the M.S. and Ph.D. from Stanford University. She is currently Professor and Coordinator of Electrical Engineering at the University of San Diego. Her teaching and research interests include electronics, optoelectronics, materials science, first year engineering courses, feminist and liberative pedagogies, engineering student persistence, and student autonomy. Her research has been sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Dr. Lord is active in the engineering education community including serving as General Co-Chair of the 2006 Frontiers in Education (FIE) Conference, on the FIE Steering Committee, and as President of the IEEE Education Society for 2009-2010. She is an Associate Editor of the IEEE Transactions on Education. She and her coauthors were awarded the 2011 Wickenden Award for the best paper in the Journal of Engineering Education and the 2011 Best Paper Award for the IEEE Transactions on Education. In Spring 2012, Dr. Lord spent a sabbatical at Southeast University in Nanjing, China teaching and doing research.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Comparing First-year Student Attitudes towards Engineering across a Liberal Arts UniversityMany researchers have worked to identify the traits that are common to students who enroll andpersist in engineering including how attitudes towards engineering affect a student s decision topursue an engineering degree and persist in the program. This research has found that highpersistence is related to an entering student s general impression of engineering and the workengineers perform, enjoyment of previous math and science classes, and confidence in ability tosucceed as an engineer. Most of these studies assessed only engineering students; their resultsmay not be helpful in identifying why students choose to study engineering.In this work, we investigate the attitudes of first-time-in college (FTIC) students in a variety ofdisciplines including engineering and non-engineering majors. By better understanding theattitudes for students who choose and do not choose engineering as a major, engineeringprograms may be able to more effectively admit students into their programs and recruit studentsfrom across their campuses. is well-positioned to conduct such a studybecause all students are accepted by the university rather than a specific major. The university isa mid-sized, nationally ranked, faith-based, private university with a liberal arts tradition. Allmajors are open to any student and no programs are capped. Entering students schedules arebased on student course preferences. Any student interested in engineering takes an engineeringclass their first semester. Since this is based on student preferences after admission, there are nointentional differences in the demographic or academic characteristics of the students admitted toengineering and majors outside of engineering. Essentially all admitted students could chooseengineering. This provides an ideal environment to compare the attitudes towards engineering ofFTIC matriculants pursuing a wide range of majors.During the first week of Fall 2012, approximately 40% of the incoming first-year students wereinvited to complete an attitudes survey based on the Pittsburgh Freshman Engineering Survey(PFES). 282 students in 28 classes completed the survey including 57 engineers, 52 studentsstudying science, 90 in social sciences, and 83 in humanities. Factor analysis is being used toidentify which characteristics distinguish engineers from other students and which are sharedamong different groups. In addition, the analysis will look for the contributions of other factorsincluding gender, race/ethnicity, family background, and academic preparation.Preliminary analysis suggests that students who choose engineering have different attitudes thanthose who do not. As might be expected, the engineers appear more confident in their ability tosucceed in engineering than other students. They are more likely to expect that an engineeringcareer would be rewarding. On the other hand, although the engineers are more likely to have avery high perception of the value of the discipline, all students reported similarly highperceptions. One interesting result appears to be the influence of family in selecting the major.Although family appears to have the least influence on whether a student pursues engineering, itwas greater than family influence in other disciplines.

Olson, R., & Ngo, T. T., & Lord, S. M. (2013, June), Comparing First-year Student Attitudes towards Engineering across a Liberal Arts University Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19324

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2013 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015