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Engagement of Students at the United States Air Force Academy

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Engineering Student Experiences

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.486.1 - 24.486.34



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Paper Authors


Scott Blum University of Colorado, Colorado Springs

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PhD Student at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs and Air Force Academy Assistant Professor

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Abstract: Engagement of Students at the United States Air Force Academy Existing theory developed since the 1970s, has provided insight to motivational factors ofengagement at institutions of higher learning, but whether those findings are applicable in thecontext of a military academy with a congressional requirement for graduates to have a has not been studied. Interviews, observations, and the National Survey of StudentEngagement (NSSE) were used as sources of feedback to measure students’ level of engagementrelative to their performance on desired institutional outcomes. Astin’s input-environment-outcome theoretical framework was applied to the Air Force Academy (AFA) setting indesigning the study, interpreting the mediators of engagement, and comparing the role of thosefactors to espoused outcomes. A new factor of context and training relevance was identified. Astin’s model was used as a framework due to the close alignment of definitions andobjectives. The original model as formulated linked three main components: student inputs,effects of the college environment, and purposeful student outcomes. The model furtherallowed for analysis of the interaction of these components. Using this conceptual underpinning, several research questions were analyzed. First, dothe traditional measures of engagement predict student success in the more technically andoccupationally focused Air Force Academy? Second, what factors influence students to increaseengagement? Third, why do student choose to become engaged or not engaged? Finally, whatpolicy options might encourage engagement? Methodologically, a sample of cadets from the AFA were selected who had sufficientexperience to provide informed feedback regarding engagement, as well as having taken theNSSE during their tenure so the data could be analyzed. From this sample, all instances of theNSSE were analyzed quantitatively and a subset of students were interviewed or observed in theacademic environment for qualitative analysis. A convergent-parallel mixed methods analysiswas performed which identified several traditional factors and one new factor as significant inpromoting student engagement: intrinsic factors, peer relationships, faculty influence,administrative policies, and relevance or context. The contextual relevance component represents a new finding not addressed in priorliterature. Incorporating these findings modified Astin’s original model as shown in the attachedmodel. Despite the sample being selected from the AFA, the results show promise in translatingto other institutions. The motivation that students identified for the importance of educationalrelevance was that they shared a common goal at graduation. This rationale makes it reasonablethat students who share a common vision of their academic goal—such as engineering ormedical students—would have a similar reaction. The implications of this research are the potential for administrative policy changes thatemphasize not only the traditional motivators of engagement, but also provide contextualrelevance to students. Further, it provides a motivation for further research that evaluateswhether the results found at the AFA actually do transfer to other institutions.

Blum, S. (2014, June), Engagement of Students at the United States Air Force Academy Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20377

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