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Decision Making In First Year Engineering: Exploring How Students Decide About Future Studies And Career Pathways

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

FPD2 - First-Year Advising and Transition

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.351.1 - 13.351.12



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Paper Authors

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Ida Ngambeki Purdue University

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Odesma Dalrymple Purdue University

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Demetra Evangelou Purdue University

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

Decision-Making in First-Year Engineering: Exploring How Students Decide about Future Studies and Career Pathways Abstract

The number of students enrolling in engineering has declined steadily over the last fifteen years, and the number of engineers joining certain fields in engineering has decreased even more drastically. A number of studies have demonstrated a strong relationship between students’ interests and abilities and their persistence in engineering. It is therefore logical to assume that students who choose a major which makes the best use of their skills and engages their interest, are more likely to not only stay, but also thrive in the field of engineering which they choose. Students who make a poor choice, because of incomplete information or misconceptions about various disciplines, often find themselves frustrated and sometimes leave engineering altogether.

A number of colleges offer first-year programs with the explicit intention of helping students make informed choices by introducing them to the various engineering disciplines before they are required to select one. The success of these programs depends on a better understanding of the processes and events that influence how students make decisions about their engineering major. The purpose of this study, conducted in a first year program, is to gain an understanding of the factors involved as students make choices about their careers in engineering. The study, conducted over a three year period, involved surveys, interviews, and narratives. This paper reports on a portion of the findings of that study. Initial results indicate that the reasons students choose to pursue a particular engineering discipline are very field specific.


Incoming engineering students at a large public university enter the First-Year Engineering Program (FYEP) which is designed to be a year-long, common curriculum experience. All the First-Year Engineering Students (FYES) must successfully complete this program before entering the engineering professional school of their choice. There are over 1500 students entering the FYEP, and each of them must decide which of thirteen professional schools of engineering to enter. Approximately 13% of the FYES leave the FYEP before completing their first year. Knowledge of the reasons that motivate students’ choice of the engineering profession and further the discipline of engineering they enter is important in order to successfully prepare students to make these choices.

In order to understand the landscape of the current research around this topic, a review of the literature was carried out. A number of studies indicated a relationship between students’ interests and performance and their persistence in engineering. For example, a study conducted at one university with a phenomenographical focus found that enjoyment, interest, and satisfaction were major factors associated with students’ success in engineering1. It is therefore reasonable to assume that students who choose a major which maximizes their interests and performance are more likely to stay in engineering.

The personal, academic, behavioral and environmental factors which influence a person’s career choice and performance have been explained using the Social Cognitive Career Theory

Ngambeki, I., & Dalrymple, O., & Evangelou, D. (2008, June), Decision Making In First Year Engineering: Exploring How Students Decide About Future Studies And Career Pathways Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--4247

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: © 2008 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