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Consideration of Happenstance Theory in Major Selection and Migration in a Large Engineering Program

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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

FPD 3: Research on First-year Programs and Students, Part I

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.376.1 - 22.376.30



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Paper Authors


Odis Hayden Griffin Jr. P.E. East Carolina University

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O. Hayden Griffin, Jr. is Professor and Chair of the Department of Engineering at East Carolina University. He has over 35 years experience in industrial and government laboratories and academia.

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Sandie J. Griffin

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Sandie J. Griffin is an academic advisor with over 15 years of university experience. She holds a B.A. in elementary education from Virginia Tech and an M.S. in academic advising from Kansas State University.

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Consideration of Happenstance Theory in Major Selection and Migration in a Large Engineering ProgramApproximately 1,000 second-semester engineering students, all of whom were admitted into afirst-year program as General Engineering students, were surveyed to determine their initialinterest in 14 different available engineering majors, their major choice, certainty of choice, andthe information sources they valued for choosing an engineering major. Data showed thatinitially students were considering over three different majors on average, with women beingmore undecided than men. Approximately 6% of students were initially completely undecidedabout choice of engineering major. Even after major selection, there is an uncertainty that theproper choice has been made, but analysis of internal transfers within engineering indicate thatafter students choose a major they generally stay in that major or leave engineering. This effect isbelieved to be due to the system that allows students a minimum of one semester to consider thedifferent options before making a choice. The system is designed so that before they choose amajor the students are exposed to multiple sources of information, consistent with indicationsfrom happenstance theory regarding a successful outcome in making a decision on major. Highlyvalued information sources when choosing an engineering major include family, friends, otherstudents, departmental information sessions, and departmental websites. Less valued sourcesinclude textbook readings, hands-on course projects, and instructors. There were also genderdifferences in value of sources, with women valuing departmental information sessions morethan men, and men valuing departmental websites more than women. Overall the process ofmajor selection correlates well with the happenstance theory of Krumboltz.

Griffin, O. H., & Griffin, S. J. (2011, June), Consideration of Happenstance Theory in Major Selection and Migration in a Large Engineering Program Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17657

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