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Engineering Co-op Interns as Partners in First-Year Student Engagement, Mentoring, and Course Development

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2017 FYEE Conference


Daytona Beach, Florida

Publication Date

August 6, 2017

Start Date

August 6, 2017

End Date

August 8, 2017

Conference Session

WIP: Student Success & Development - Focus on Mentoring

Tagged Topics

Diversity and FYEE Conference - Works in Progress Submission

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Paper Authors


Geoff Rideout Memorial University of Newfoundland

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Geoff Rideout received his B.Eng. (Mechanical) from Memorial University of Newfoundland in 1993. After working in the manufacturing and building systems consulting industries, he earned his M.A.Sc. in Mechanical Engineering from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan. He has lectured at the University of Michigan and at the Humber Institute for Advanced Technology and Applied Learning in Toronto. He is currently an Associate Professor at Memorial University, teaching mechanics and design. His research areas are automated modeling, vehicle dynamics and control, vibration-assisted drilling, and nondestructive testing of power transmission line poles.

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Thelma E Coley Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, Memorial University

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Thelma Coley is a Student Engagement Coordinator with the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science at Memorial University, NL, Canada. She holds an M. Ed. specializing in teaching and has considerable instructional experience within a variety of educational settings. She has provided professional development to other teaching specialists and is currently responsible for creation and implementation of a program to promote student engagement as a means to improve retention and transition rates for first year Engineering students.

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Memorial University welcomes approximately 250 students into its “Engineering One” (Eng One) first year, directly from high school. Eng One is common to all departments. Upon completing 11 courses within three semesters, students with sufficient academic standing are promoted to second year (“Term 3”). Academic Terms 3 through 8 alternate with 4-month mandatory co-op work placements. Approximately 70-80% of Eng One students meet the promotion requirements for Term 3; however, a certain percentage will not enter their department of first choice and voluntarily leave the program. Once in Term 3, students move through the remainder of the program as a block-promotion cohort, with significantly reduced attrition and increased peer-to-peer support and learning. Co-op students (“Engineering Student Engagement Partners”, or “ESEP’s”) were hired at the beginning of the 2016-17 academic year to help maximize first-year student success, engagement and motivation; and to increase Eng One students’ sense of belonging to an engineering community. The ESEP program was also initiated to involve junior students in curriculum development for the four Eng One courses specific to the Faculty of Engineering.

Each of the four ESEPs was given the lead role in supporting an individual course (Statics, Introduction to Programming, Design and Graphics, and Circuits / Thinking Like an Engineer). ESEP’s support students by attending lectures, providing tutoring, facilitating sessions on time management and study skills, redirecting students to appropriate support services, and hosting “online rooms” to provide after-hours support for lecture clarification and help with assignments. ESEP’s support the instructional team by developing and focus-grouping course materials in collaboration with the instructor, administering extra problem sets through the on-line rooms, and informing instructors of specific student difficulties with assignments and lecture concepts. Compared to professors and even graduate Teaching Assistants, ESEP peer mentors have less of an “expert blind spot”. Finally, the ESEP’s support the undergraduate program administration through research into best practices in first-year engineering education, curricular advancements in other schools, and novel instructional methods.

Preliminary results show increasing uptake of services (as evidenced by a three-fold increase in online room visits from the first to the second semester), and increasing support from the instructors via in-class announcements and reminders of ESEP services. Examples of instructor-ESEP collaboration for course material generation include spatial visualization aids for orthrographic projection (Design), a solar powered heat pump feasibility case study (Thinking Like an Engineer), and practice problem sets (Programming). There is evidence that some students are more comfortable approaching the ESEP's compared to the instructor, given the ESEP’s peer status. ESEP’s have successfully relayed information about student struggles to the primary instructor, leading to changes in subsequent lectures in the Programming course.

Instructors’ perceptions of the current and potential advantages of ESEP’s will be surveyed in future, and correlations between student use of supports and academic success will be quantified as part of a continuous improvement process. The role of the ESEP’s may be expanded to outreach in the form of conducting tours for K-12 groups or incoming freshman.

-------------- Authors:

Geoff Rideout, Assoc. Prof. of Mechanical Engineering and Director of First Year Thelma Coley, First-Year Engagement Coordinator

Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science Memorial University St. John's, NL Canada

Rideout, G., & Coley, T. E. (2017, August), Engineering Co-op Interns as Partners in First-Year Student Engagement, Mentoring, and Course Development Paper presented at 2017 FYEE Conference, Daytona Beach, Florida.

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