Asee peer logo

English Background of East Asian Students in the College of Engineering

Download Paper |


2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

First-Year Programs: Wednesday Potpourri

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Tagged Topic


Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Isabel Cristina Jimenez-Useche Purdue University, West Lafayette (College of Engineering)

visit author page

Isabel C. Jimenez-Useche is a Visiting Assistant Professor of the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University.

visit author page


Stephen R. Hoffmann Purdue University, West Lafayette (College of Engineering)

visit author page

Stephen R. Hoffmann is the Assistant Head of the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University, with responsibilities for the First-Year Engineering Program.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Tittle: English background of Eastern-Asian students in the College of Engineering

This complete research paper describes different pathways that Eastern-Asian engineering students take to learn English before starting college and their impact on student’s performance in an introductory engineering class. The number of non-U.S. students enrolling in engineering programs has increased in the last years. A significant number of these students come from Eastern-Asian countries such as China, Korea, etc. The language proficiency of these students and their adaptation to the active learning style of American classrooms is frequently questioned. There is evidence suggesting that language and culture proficiency are the two major factors contributing to Eastern-Asian student’s reticence in class. Poor language proficiency leads to communication issues that are detrimental when students have to work in teams. This is particularly evident in the cases of first-year engineering introductory classes that have teamwork and engineering design components. However, the first year of engineering college is not the first time that all Eastern-Asian students experience the American culture or use English as a medium of instruction. A fraction of Eastern-Asian students has studied in English and have been emerging in American style classrooms before starting their first year of engineering. Here, we investigate how these previous experiences using English as a medium of instruction and in contact with the American culture impact the performance of Eastern-Asian students in their first year of engineering.

The study follows a mixed method approach to study the performance of Eastern-Asian students in a first-year, mandatory, introductory engineering class. Students are disaggregated depending on their language of academic instruction before taking the class. In total, there were 173 Eastern-Asian students in the class. Half of them reported having used English as a medium of instruction before taking the introductory engineering class. Students’ performance in the class was assessed by quantitatively comparing grades, CATME scores, and team dynamics indicators. Then, we conducted interviews with Eastern-Asian students, who reported to have used English as a medium of instruction in the past, to inquire about the specifics of that experience and to identify how that experience has an impact on their performance in the class and on other aspects of college life.

In our findings, we report on the differences between Eastern-Asian students who have studied in English before and those who have not, in grades in individual and team assignments, scores of effectiveness as team-members, and perceptions of conflict and satisfaction when working in teams. We also report at least three different pathways that Eastern-Asian students take to learn English and/or emerge themselves in the American classroom styles before starting their engineering studies in an American college. The impact of these experiences on student’s academic performance in their first, mandatory, introduction to engineering class is discussed.

Eastern-Asian students who have studied in English before, and have been in contact with the American classroom culture, show more willingness to communicate with other students – Americans or non-U.S. – and seem to better understand the dynamics of teamwork. Their early transition into the culture and their ease to speak in English facilitate interactions with others which positively impact their performance in the class, particularly when working in design projects in teams.

The findings of this research bring awareness about the existence of a subgroup of Eastern-Asian, non-U.S., students who have taken alternative routes to learn and use English before starting their engineering majors. These experiences separate them from other Eastern-Asian students who are studying in English for the first time. Knowing who these students are and what are their strengths and their needs is instrumental for instructors of first-year engineering classes who match and mix these students in engineering teams. It is also instrumental for administrators and staff who advise these students and who design English supplementary classes to improve English proficiency of non-U.S. students.

Jimenez-Useche, I. C., & Hoffmann, S. R. (2017, June), English Background of East Asian Students in the College of Engineering Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28268

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2017 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015