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Comparison of Engineering Student Self-confidence at Two Universities

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Design Spine

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.350.1 - 22.350.16

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Paper Authors

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Andrew Trivett University of Prince Edward Island


Daria A. Kotys-Schwartz University of Colorado, Boulder

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Daria Kotys-Schwartz is the Faculty Director for the Mesa State College-University of Colorado Mechanical Engineering Partnership Program and an Instructor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She received B.S. and M.S. degrees in Mechanical Engineering from The Ohio State University and a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Colorado, Boulder. Dr. Kotys-Schwartz has focused her research in engineering epistemology, engineering student learning, retention and diversity. She is currently investigating the use of Oral Discourse Method for conceptual development in engineering, the impact of a four-year hands-on design curriculum in engineering, the effects of service learning in engineering education, and informal learning in engineering.

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Pemberton Cyrus Dalhousie University

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Dr. Pemberton Cyrus, P.Eng., FEC, is Associate Dean of Engineering at Dalhousie University. Prior to this, he served as the Head of Industrial Engineering. His research areas include routing and scheduling algorithms, and resource allocation problems. He recently led a redesign of the core engineering curriculum at Dalhousie and its Associated Universities.

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Looking in Canada for the “Valley of Despair” in sophomores and JuniorsAbstractPrior work has shown evidence of second and third year students in an engineering program gothrough a period when self- assessment of their engineering skills are much lower than in eitherfirst or senior years. The result was surprising since these students have been academicallysuccessful, yet they evidently feel less capable than freshmen. This was coined in previous workthe “Valley of Despair” for students. Several indicators from student surveys showed thisattitudinal difference. In past work, it was suggested that this loss of self-confidence andenthusiasm was partly the result of a “bookend” design curriculum where students undertakedesign projects in only their first-year and then again in a capstone design project. The“bookend” design programs are common in engineering schools throughout North America.The current paper takes the methodology applied at the University of Colorado at Boulder andlooks at students in a comparable “bookend” engineering program in several Atlantic Canadianuniversities affiliated with Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. In the work presented, studentsin several campuses and in each of the 4 years are surveyed for their attitudes towards theircapabilities and their levels of enthusiasm for the profession. Questions asked in the surveys areadapted from the work done previously at University of Colorado at Boulder. Of the 7campuses in the Dalhousie Affiliated University system, each has a different degree of designpractice in the second year, and the data is compared to assess the impact of second-year designprojects where they are part of the curriculum. In all of the survey results, the authors makecomparisons to assess the presence of the “Valley of Despair” in second- and third- year studentattitudes.

Trivett, A., & Kotys-Schwartz, D. A., & Cyrus, P. (2011, June), Comparison of Engineering Student Self-confidence at Two Universities Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC.

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