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Engineering Major Certainty: A Look at Major Discernment Initiatives Pre and Post

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

First-Year Programs: Deciding on a Major

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Kerry Meyers University of Notre Dame

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Dr. Kerry Meyers holds a Ph.D. in Engineering Education (B.S. & M.S. Mechanical Engineering) and is specifically focused on programs that influence student’s experience, affect retention rates, and the factors that determine the overall long term success of students entering an engineering program. She is the Assistant Dean for Student Development in the College of Engineering at the University of Notre Dame. She is committed to the betterment of the undergraduate curriculum and is still actively involved in the classroom, teaching students in the First-Year Engineering Program.

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Victoria E. Goodrich University of Notre Dame

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Dr. Victoria Goodrich is a teaching professor in the Department of Chemical and BIomolecular Engineering at the University of Notre Dame, focusing specifically on hands-on learning within the CBE curriculum. She holds a BS in Chemical Engineering from the University of Oklahoma and a MS and PhD in Chemical Engineering from Notre Dame. She previously directed the First-Year Engineering Program at Notre Dame. Her research focuses primarily on Engineering Education issues, especially focused within the first-year engineering experience and the chemical engineering curriculum.

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This complete evidence based practice paper explores first-year engineering student’s major discernment and the certainty level change with the introduction of formal course programming. The content of the course programming involved hands-on class sessions that exposed students to each of the engineering departments offered followed by sessions that allow students to select a department to learn about in greater depth through an alumni panel, lab tours, and a student panel. For each of these more in depth sessions, students select which they want to attend during class time as there were 5 sessions being offered at the same time slot representing the five departments for that institution. The purpose of this discernment module was to help First-Year Engineering students make an informed decision about their future study as an engineering major.

Students completed surveys multiple times throughout their first-year indicating their intended engineering major and how certain they felt about that decision. It was hypothesized that gaining this exposure formally would increase a student’s self-reported certainty level with an engineering major by the end of the first-year. Statistical comparisons were made to certainty levels of students at the end of their first-year before this major discernment module was introduced (2016-2017 school year) and after (2017-2018 school year). There were 450-500 students for each school year considered.

Overall, the certainty level of students with their engineering major increased over the course of the school year with over 80% of students indicating an increased level of certainty after the discernment module was introduced. The percentage of students that changed majors during the first-year increased after implementing the major discernment module, with over 50% of students changing departments at some point during the first-year. The first-year to sophomore retention level increased by 5% after introducing the engineering major discernment module. The certainty levels for male students was higher than female students for all surveys; however, after the major discernment module was introduced the difference between male and female students was no longer significant. This indicates that this module likely had a positive influence for women in particular. Computer Science and Engineering students exhibit an initially higher certainty level than other engineering majors which we hypothesize to be related to prior high school courses taken in computer programming. Finally, certainty level in an engineering major was considered as it relates to academic preparedness and was found to be independent.

Meyers, K., & Goodrich, V. E. (2019, June), Engineering Major Certainty: A Look at Major Discernment Initiatives Pre and Post Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32731

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