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Critical Review of Research on the Role of Social Engagement

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Research in Engineering Education I

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.368.1 - 25.368.15



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Paper Authors


Sandra Loree Dika University of North Carolina, Charlotte

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Sandra Loree Dika is an Assistant Professor of education research methods at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. Her research focuses broadly on college access and success, and more specifically on student engagement and retention, particularly among underrepresented populations and in STEM fields.

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Jae Hoon Lim University of North Carolina, Charlotte

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Jae Hoon Lim is an Assistant Professor of research methods at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, and teaches introductory and advanced research method courses in the College of Education. Her research interests include socio-cultural issues in mathematics education and various equity topics in STEM fields. She has served as a Lead or Co-investigator for multiple educational research and evaluation projects. She published more than 30 articles in scholarly and professional journals world-wide and authored seven book or monograph chapters.

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Critical Review of Research on the Role of Social Engagement in Engineering Students’ Retention and Academic SuccessThe purpose of this paper is to provide a critical analysis of the existing literature related to theconstruct of “social engagement,” which has been studied as one important predictor ofengineering student retention and academic success.Background and motivation. For many years, researchers have highlighted the critical role ofsocial engagement in college student retention and academic success. Astin (1993) emphasizedthat the single most influential factor in college student development was the peer group, linkingsense of community with overall satisfaction with college. To increase retention, Tinto (1990)suggested that freshman students should be integrated into social and academic communitiesearly in their freshman year. Researchers have also suggested that some types of socialengagement are critical to the academic success and retention of female and underrepresentedethnic minority students (e.g., Chachra et al., 2009; Kilgore et al., 2009).However, with the increasing number of research studies in engineering education during the lasttwo decades, researchers have begun to acknowledge that a retention and academic successmodel for engineering students may differ from those of non-engineering majors. In an analysisof a national data set on student engagement, Lichtenstein et al. (2010) noted that engineeringstudents reported spending similar amounts of time on co-curricular activities and volunteerwork as non-engineering students; however, time spent in these activities did not contribute toexplaining persistence or graduation. Using data from University of Michigan, Veenstra et al.(2009) proposed a model listing seven pre-collegiate predictors that contribute to the academicsuccess of freshman engineering students, including social engagement. While Veenstra et al.acknowledged that the construct of social engagement is measured in many different ways and itis hard to identify a significant trend in the use of the construct, they concluded that socialengagement is more significant in research on general college education than in engineeringeducation.Methods and results. In this paper, we present a critical analysis of previous studies using theconcept of social engagement, and explicate four major reasons for contradictory research resultsregarding the role of this construct in engineering student retention and academic success: a)inconsistent use of measures for the construct, b) significant flaws inherent to the assessmentmeasures, c) issues with the construct and theory development itself, and d) misinterpretations ofsurvey or other quantitative data.Conclusions and significance. We propose that the construct of “social engagement” be re-developed reflecting the unique characteristics of the engineering fields and engineering studentdispositions, and a valid instrument be created and consistently used in future studies in order todraw a reasonable evaluation of the construct in engineering student retention and academicsuccess. We also highlight the need for research that investigates dispositions and patterns ofsocial engagement among sub-groups of engineering students. Critical analyses of assessmentmeasures, such as the one undertaken in this paper, are essential to advance our understanding ofthe mechanisms that affect student learning and success in engineering education.

Dika, S. L., & Lim, J. H. (2012, June), Critical Review of Research on the Role of Social Engagement Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21126

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