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Empowering Students with Choice in the First Year

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

FPD VI: Presenting "All the Best" of the First-year Programs Division

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.524.1 - 25.524.19



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Paper Authors


Lorelle A. Meadows University of Michigan

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Lorelle Meadows is Assistant Dean of Academic Programs in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan. She has primary responsibility for the design and delivery of the first year engineering curriculum and conducts engineering education research in the areas of teamwork and motivation.

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Robin Fowler University of Michigan

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Robin Fowler is a lecturer in the Program in Technical Communication. She co-teaches multiple sections of the course described in this paper.

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Elizabeth S. Hildinger University of Michigan

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Elizabeth Hildinger teaches in the Program in Technical Communication in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan. She has a Ph.D. in old english philology and Anglo-Latin from the Centre for Medieval Studies in the University of Toronto and an M.A. in linguistics from the University of Texas. Before joining the staff of the Program in Technical Communication, she worked as a Research Scientist on the University of Michigan's Middle English Dictionary Project and as an Assistant Professor of English at Indiana State University. She is interested in rhetorical grammar and in the special concerns of engineering students writing in English as a second language.

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Empowering  Students  with  Choice  in  the  First  Year    For the past decade, engineering schools have developed a variety of models for introducingfirst-year students to their chosen field. These range from surveys of a variety of engineeringdisciplines, introductions to problem solving and algorithmic thinking, to design and professionalskills in project-based learning courses. The introduction of these courses has greatly enhancedearly student understanding of the engineering field, improving choice of discipline andsatisfaction with engineering education (Sheppard et al., 2009).This paper provides an overview and analysis of an introductory engineering course design thatempowers entering first-year students with choice. While most engineering curricula offerlimited choice in the introductory experience, or are specifically tailored to disciplines that thestudent must claim prior to enrollment, this course design gives students the freedom of choosingamong 12-14 different engineering design projects in an introductory setting. The projectsrepresent a variety of cross-disciplinary and discipline-specific projects addressing all of theavailable majors in the college, with themes in alternative energy, systems design, humanitariandesign, engineering and the arts, and entrepreneurship. Most of the projects have significanthands-on components, while a few provide a more research-based approach. Interested facultyin the college from a variety of disciplines design the projects. All of the sections provide afoundation in the professional skills, including teamwork, with strong emphasis on technicalcommunications.During the 2010-11 academic year, students in the course were surveyed to determine how theywere electing to enroll in the sections, and what effect their course experience might have ontheir intentions to persist in engineering and their selection of a major. Of 369 students surveyed,71% strongly agreed or agreed that, as a result of taking this course, their interest in being anengineer was increased or was confirmed. Eighty-nine percent of respondents found the designproject interesting, and 81% felt they had a better understanding of what an engineer does as aresult of taking the course. Although this outcome may not be directly related to the course,when surveyed about their choice of engineering major before and after the course, only 6students reported their intentions to leave engineering after the course (zero before). Theoverwhelming majority of students reported keeping the same engineering major, with someshifting from undecided or between engineering disciplines. In addition, section enrollment forwomen and under-represented minority students mirrors expectations suggested in research thatthese students are drawn to careers that feature the opportunity to help others (e.g. Seymour &Hewitt, 1997). Humanitarian projects and those featuring environmental and biomedical themeshost disproportionately high numbers of under-represented students. Finally, student satisfactionwith this course is high, with the course and instructors receiving median values, averaged acrossthe sections, of 4.2 and 4.4 respectively on course evaluations (on a 5-point Likert scale).These results suggest that student interest and understanding in engineering increase whenstudents are allowed to explore an engineering topic of interest in their first year. In addition,this model may serve to create a welcoming atmosphere for a diverse set of students, allowingunder-represented students the opportunity to engage in aspects of engineering that are importantto their career goals.References Cited:  Seymour, E., & Hewitt, N. (1997). Talking about leaving: Why undergraduates leave thesciences. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.Sheppard, S. D., Macatangay, K., Colby, A., & Sullivan, W. M. (2009). Educating engineers,designing for the future of the field. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.  

Meadows, L. A., & Fowler, R., & Hildinger, E. S. (2012, June), Empowering Students with Choice in the First Year Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21282

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