Asee peer logo

Disengaging or Disappearing? Losing the most Socially Motivated Students from Engineering?

Download Paper |


2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Diversity and Inclusion

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Angela R. Bielefeldt University of Colorado, Boulder

visit author page

Angela Bielefeldt is a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering (CEAE). She has served as the ABET assessment coordinator for her department since 2008. Professor Bielefeldt is the faculty director of the Sustainable By Design Residential Academic Program, a living-learning community where interdisciplinary students learn about and practice sustainability. Bielefeldt is also a licensed P.E. Professor Bielefeldt's research interests in engineering education include service-learning, sustainable engineering, social responsibility, ethics, and diversity.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Engineering has been marketing itself to high school students as a discipline that helps people. As more socially motivated students enter into engineering, an outstanding question is whether or not these students are retained to graduate in engineering or leave to other disciplines at higher rates as compared to less socially motivated peers. A previous study that characterized students’ motivations toward engineering using interview methods found that female students whose primary motivation toward engineering was to help underserved populations left engineering at a higher rate than female students with other primary motivations toward engineering. The students participating in that study were initially enrolled at four different institutions, but the study population was quite small (n~30). The current research used quantitative methods to characterize the social responsibility (SR) attitudes of a larger population of incoming engineering students at a single institution. A high SR score was defined as an average score across nine 7-point Likert-type items at the third quartile or higher. Among 122 students who entered engineering at the institution in fall 2011, 45% of those with high initial SR scores left engineering, compared to only 28% among students with lower SR scores. Among 57 students initially majoring in mechanical, civil, or environmental engineering in fall 2012, 44% of the students with high SR scores left engineering, compared to only 34% leaving who did not possess high SR scores. Both gender and major appeared to play a role in the results. The curricular context of engineering majors at this institution are discussed in terms of social context, technical/non-technical balance and course flexibility, as compared to the most common destination majors of the students who left engineering. The preliminary results suggest that engineering programs that wish to retain highly socially motivated students should explore the infusion of social context into engineering courses beyond the first year, as well as the required balance of technical and non-technical coursework in their curriculum and opportunities for course choice.

Bielefeldt, A. R. (2017, June), Disengaging or Disappearing? Losing the most Socially Motivated Students from Engineering? Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28186

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: © 2017 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