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Early Exposure To Engineering Practitioners Provides Informed Choices For Students Continuing Engineering Programs

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Beyond the Engineering Classroom

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.503.1 - 14.503.12



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Paper Authors


Matthew Traum University of North Texas

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Matthew J. Traum is an assistant professor of mechanical and energy engineering at the University of North Texas (UNT) where he directs the research activities of the Thermal Fluid Sciences Group @ UNT . Dr. Traum earned his doctorate in mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) through MIT’s Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies where his research focused on nanotechnology systems integration with emphasis on thermal management for the dismounted soldier. Dr. Traum holds a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from MIT and two bachelor’s degrees from the University of California, Irvine: one in mechanical engineering and the second in aerospace engineering. He also attended the University of Bristol, UK as a non-matriculating visiting scholar where he completed an M.Eng thesis in the Department of Aerospace Engineering.

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Sharon Karackattu University of North Texas

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Dr. Sharon L. Karackattu coordinates assessment activities for UNT’s Division of Student Development. She earned a Ph.D. in Biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2006 and subsequently worked as a postdoctoral associate in MIT’s department of Biological Engineering. She also holds a B.S. degree from the University of Florida.

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

Early Exposure to Engineering Practitioners Provides Informed Choices for Students Continuing Engineering Programs


The engineering education literature calls for studies highlighting the impact of students’ early exposure to post-graduate engineering careers. This paper provides data critical to assessing the effectiveness of a unique first-year experience concept: exposing new students to the careers of practicing engineers. We report on an initiative for incoming students to the mechanical and energy engineering (MEE) major at the University of North Texas (UNT). Our mandatory freshman course sequence, Mechanical and Energy Engineering Practice, includes exposure to practicing engineers as a significant component of the first-year experience by highlighting activities and responsibilities that engineers encounter after college as they join the profession. Classes are team-taught by the MEE faculty in concert with practicing engineers from local industries. Faculty share their careers as research engineers, whereas practicing engineers expose students to industry work. Through data collected from students enrolled in this course sequence, we test the hypothesis that educating new engineering students about the responsibilities, activities, and projects they may encounter as practicing engineers will have a positive impact on their intention to continue in engineering programs beyond the freshman year. We present results from a survey, which students took on the first day of class and then re-took on the last day in both Fall 2007 and Spring 2008. Interestingly, while students’ self-reported level of interest in pursuing an engineering career remains positive and unchanged after exposure to engineering practitioners, students’ reported desire to remain in the MEE department at the end of these classes declines. This drop is statistically significant. We argue that these low-risk, introductory-level, one-credit-hour courses function to familiarize students with the careers of practicing engineers while providing the exposure students need to decide whether the major and university they have selected is the correct long-term choice for them. At this early stage, they can choose to change programs for a better fit. We call this academic self-selection process “soft weeding,” juxtaposed against “hard weeding” by which students are forced out of a program against their will after prolonged poor performance in several high-risk upper-division courses. Simultaneously, the courses positively reinforce and motivate students who find engineering careers a good match, helping them to persevere in their core pre-engineering courses.


Many universities have bolstered efforts to recruit and retain students in science and engineering in response to federal reports citing a dearth of trained professionals in these fields.1 Particular emphasis has been placed on enhancing the first-year experiences of science and engineering majors in an attempt to expose these students to practical experience alongside traditional pedagogical curricula.2

Conventional “first-year experience” courses focus on teaching college survival skills, providing campus orientation, and building camaraderie to support students as they embark on higher education. These activities are believed to improve student retention by reinforcing critical skill sets, knowledge, and networks for ensuing college years.3 The engineering education literature calls for studies on how redesigned “first-year experience” courses affect retention rates and student

Traum, M., & Karackattu, S. (2009, June), Early Exposure To Engineering Practitioners Provides Informed Choices For Students Continuing Engineering Programs Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--4752

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: © 2009 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