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Early Academic Experiences of Non-Persisting Engineering Undergraduates

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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

Persistence and Retention I

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.516.1 - 22.516.23



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Paper Authors


Tiffany Tseng Stanford University

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Tiffany Tseng is a second year mechanical engineering graduate student at Stanford University with research interests in design and engineering education. She received her B.S. in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2009.

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Helen L. Chen Stanford University

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Helen L. Chen is a researcher at the Center for Design Research in the School of Engineering and the Stanford Center for Innovations in Learning (SCIL) within the Human-Sciences Technologies Advanced Research Institute at Stanford University. She earned her undergraduate degree from UCLA and her Ph.D. in Communication with a minor in Psychology from Stanford University in 1998. Helen’s current research interests relate to the use of ePortfolios for teaching, learning, and assessment; engineering education; and designing approaches to document and evaluate the innovations in teaching and learning occurring in the technology-augmented classrooms.

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Sheri Sheppard, P.E. Stanford University

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Sheri D. Sheppard, Ph.D., P.E., is the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching Consulting Senior Scholar principally responsible for the Preparations for the Professions Program (PPP) engineering study, the results of which are in the report Educating Engineers: Designing for the Future of the Field. In addition, she is professor of Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University. Besides teaching both undergraduate and graduate design-related classes at Stanford University, she conducts research on weld and solder-connect fatigue and impact failures, fracture mechanics, and applied finite element analysis. In 2003, Dr. Sheppard was named co-principal investigator on a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to form the Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education (CAEE), along with faculty at the University of Washington, Colorado School of Mines, and Howard University.

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Experiences of Non-Persisting Engineering UndergraduatesEngineering programs nationwide lose almost half of their undergraduate students during the course oftheir undergraduate careers. Increasing our understanding of the students who leave engineering (“non-persisters”) is crucial to determine ways to better support engineering undergraduates and increaseretention. This study utilizes academic transcripts, semi-structured interviews, and longitudinal surveyscollected from the Academic Pathways Study (APS) to understand persisting and non-persisting studentsfrom a Suburban Private University. Data from the APS allows for characterization of the coursework thestudents take, what they believe engineering is, and reasons why they choose to leave or stay in theirmajor. In particular, differences between experiences of persisters and non-persisters in their first twoyears of study are compared to examine factors that may strongly influence non-persisters to switch out ofengineering.Prior research on the same data set has found that non-persisters are less committed to finishing anundergraduate major at the onset of their first year and experience a sharp decrease in intrinsic,psychological motivation for studying engineering after their first year. The current work shows that non-persisters take significantly less engineering coursework than their peers during their first year (p<0.05),suggesting that students choose to switch even before being exposed to engineering classes. After thesecond year, by which all non-persisters have switched to a non-engineering major, non-persisters aremore likely to cite technical skills as an important engineering skill whereas persisters shift fromemphasizing technical skills to highlighting problem solving and professional skills such ascommunication and collaboration. These differences may be a consequence of the lack of engineeringclasses, particularly project-based coursework, that non-persisters take. Finally, both groups of studentsappear to undergo the same hardships of curriculum overload due to inflexible and overwhelming courserequirements for engineering majors. However, interview data suggests that non-persisters choose tochange majors due to differences in their pre-college engineering experiences and priorities for what theyhope to gain during their undergraduate years.

Tseng, T., & Chen, H. L., & P.E., S. S. (2011, June), Early Academic Experiences of Non-Persisting Engineering Undergraduates Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17797

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