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Effectiveness of Freshman Level Multi-disciplinary Hands-on Projects in Increasing Student Retention Rate and Reducing Graduation Time for Engineering Students in a Public Comprehensive University

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

First-year Programs Division: Retention

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Binod Tiwari California State University, Fullerton

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Dr. Tiwari is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at California State University Fullerton. His research interest includes geotechnical earthquake engineering, soil behavior, slopes dams and embankment, natural hazard mitigation, and engineering education. He developed and implemented the hands-on project based course, Introduction to Engineering, to the first year engineering students with the aim to increase retention rate and reduce graduation time. Dr. Tiwari is an ABET program evaluator for ASEE.

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Pradeep Nair California State University, Fullerton

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Pradeep Nair received his Ph. D. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Texas at San Antonio in 2009. His research interests include power/performance tradeoffs in the nanoscale domain, leakage power reduction in digital systems, computer performance analysis and evaluation, low Power FPGAs, and biomedical circuits and systems. He has published several peer-reviewed papers as part of his research. At CSUF, Dr. Nair has taught several engineering courses ranging from the freshman level to the graduate level. His teaching interests are in the areas of VLSI, Digital Systems, and Computer Architecture. The courses he has taught since joining CSUF include Introduction to Engineering, Digital Logic and Computer Structures, Microcontrollers, Designing with VHDL, Signals and Systems, Current Topics: Brain-Computer Interfacing, Low Power Digital IC Design, Design Applications of Microcontrollers and FPGAs, and Microprogramming and Embedded Microprocessors. Dr. Nair is also the co-advisor of the IEEE Computer Society chapter at CSUF.

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Susamma Barua California State University, Fullerton

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Susamma Barua, Ph.D. is the Dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science and Professor of Computer Science and Computer Engineering at California State University, Fullerton. Dr. Barua is a leader in engineering educational reform and is an experienced developer of innovative education programs for facilitating graduation rate and narrowing the achievement gap. She is a Co-PI on the NSF awards, "ECS Academic Catalyst for Excellence (ACE) Scholarship Program," the "CSUF ADVANCE IT-Catalyst Project" and the “INCLUDES: STEM^3: Scaling STEM^2”. She serves as a PI on the Department of Labor grant “Orange County Bridge to Engineering”. Dr. Barua is a recipient of Outstanding Teacher/Scholar awards several times and has been actively involved in mentoring female and underrepresented students in computing for most of her career.

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This complete Evidence-based Practice paper describes the effectiveness of hands-on multidisciplinary projects on the retention and graduation rates of engineering majors in a public comprehensive university.

Motivation: The US national trend shows that undergraduate students in engineering majors have lower retention rates and take a longer time to graduate compared to other majors.

Background: Some institutions admit students as undeclared majors. These students declare their major either in the sophomore or junior year. However, at other institutions, majority of the students declare their majors during their admission in freshman year. Until the new “undeclared engineering” major was introduced in 2010, engineering and computer science (ECS) students at this university where the study was performed, were generally admitted with a declared engineering major. The inter-major and out-of-major transfers were high as many students were not familiar with the curricular details of the chosen majors. Moreover, majority of the admitted students, at present, are required to complete at least two semesters of calculus and a semester of physics courses before they start the first course in their engineering major. Records show that many students change their major at this stage even prior to taking their first engineering course, which increases the attrition rate.

Methods: The “undeclared engineering” major was introduced in 2010 to help students declare the major of their interest within their first year. Along with the addition of this major, a hands-on project based “Introduction to Engineering” course was introduced. The course is team taught by faculty from four different engineering disciplines. They introduce the students to simple but challenging hands-on projects representing the four disciplines. Students get the opportunity to work collaboratively in these projects. The course is designed to include two important high impact practices – a) collaborative assignments and projects, and b) first year experiences. The college tracks the progress of these cohort students to assess the effectiveness of the course in student success, specifically in increasing retention rate and reducing time to graduation.

Results: Out of the 34,462 undergraduate students enrolled in Fall 2016 at the university where this study is conducted, 10.8% were in ECS majors. The campus-wide 1st, 2nd, and 3rd year retention rates for the students from 2010 were 84.9%, 78.2%, and 75%, respectively. However, those rates for students with ECS majors were significantly low. The campus-wide 4, 5, and 6 year-graduation rate for the cohort admitted in Fall 2010 was 17.6% and 48.8%, and 62.3%, respectively, whereas those rates for students with ECS majors were significantly low. The data shows that with the launching of the hands-on project based introduction to engineering course, retention rates and four to six year graduation rates of ECS majors have noticeably increased. The student-self assessment survey results show that the course, specifically the hands-on projects, helped the students to declare the major within their first year and develop their academic course plan. This paper includes the systematic analysis of institutional as well as student self-assessment data, pertinent to the academic success of undergraduate engineering students who completed the hands-on project based introduction to engineering course, for a period of 6 years.

Tiwari, B., & Nair, P., & Barua, S. (2018, June), Effectiveness of Freshman Level Multi-disciplinary Hands-on Projects in Increasing Student Retention Rate and Reducing Graduation Time for Engineering Students in a Public Comprehensive University Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30360

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