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Examining First-Year Student Success and Attitudes During Challenging Times

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2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Baltimore , Maryland

Publication Date

June 25, 2023

Start Date

June 25, 2023

End Date

June 28, 2023

Conference Session

Women in Engineering Division (WIED) Technical Session 3

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Women in Engineering Division (WIED)

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Paper Authors


Hannah Boyce Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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Hannah Boyce is a first year PhD student in Chemical Engineering at MIT in the White Lab in Bioengineering working on phosphoproteomics to understand signaling in cancer. She graduated from Northeastern University in December 2021 with a BS in Chemical Engineering and was involved in the Connections Chemistry Review program for four years. At Northeastern she was heavily involved in the engineering community as a peer mentor and held multiple leadership positions in AIChE.

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Madeline JoAnna Szoo Northeastern University

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Madeline Szoo is a 3rd year undergraduate Chemical Engineering and Biochemistry major at Northeastern University. She has been involved in the Connections Chemistry Review program as a supplemental instructor for two years, she is the current President of the Northeastern University Chapter of Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Honor Society, and she is involved in undergraduate research in drug-delivery systems for the treatment of various cancers, stem cell differentiation protocols, and disease modeling with microphysiological systems.

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Paul A. DiMilla Northeastern University

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During his academic career as a faculty member in engineering and the sciences at institutions including Carnegie Mellon University, Olin College, Oregon State University, and Northeastern University, Paul A. DiMilla has been the recipient of the first Whitaker Young Investigator Award from the BMES, a Searle Scholar Award, and an Early Career Development Award from the NSF as well as a three-time recipient of the Omega Chi Epsilon Outstanding Faculty Award from the Northeastern Student Affiliate of AIChE and the Dick Sioui Teaching Award from Northeastern University. He also has led industrial R&D teams at Organogenesis Inc. and Polymerix Corporation developing tissue-engineered medical products and drug- generating biodegradable polymers, respectively, and has co-founded Automated Cell, Inc. In addition to being an inventor on a series of issued US patents, he has published the textbook General Chemistry for Engineers with Cognella Academic Publishing.

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Rachelle Reisberg Northeastern University

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Rachelle Reisberg is the Assistant Dean for for Undergraduate Curriculum and Students in the College of Science at Northeastern University. Prior to that, she served as the Assistant Dean of Engineering Enrollment and Retention and Director of Women in Engineering. She has extensive industry and management experience including President of a high tech start-up company.

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In recent years, educational institutions have experienced unprecedented challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, including changes in course delivery and the pandemic’s impact on the preparedness and mental health of incoming students. The consequences of the pandemic were further exacerbated for at-risk populations, including first-generation college students, underrepresented minority (URM) students, and women as the gender minority.

Our team has previously reported on the impact of pre-matriculation credits, supplemental instruction (SI), and the transition to college on academic success in a first-year chemistry course for engineering students, with a focus on gendered differences. In this present study, we have expanded our scope to understand more broadly how, for students starting their engineering studies in 2021, their core identity (gender and race/ethnicity), background (first-generation status and pre-matriculation credits), preconceptions and attitudes, and use of SI correlate with their first-semester grades and their outlook towards their overall studies. To address this goal, we administered surveys at the start and end of the Fall 2021 semester to first-year engineering students at Northeastern University and received a response rate of 65% (485 students, consisting of 191 female-identifying, 292 male-identifying, and 2 non-binary students). Survey responses were paired with corresponding institutional data for grades and SI use.

We found that women had higher grade-thresholds for seeking SI and reported more factors negatively impacting their learning at the start and end of the semester, as well as more pessimistic outlooks towards their general studies compared to men. These differences were observed despite the fact that both genders entered their first-year with a similar number of pre-matriculation credits and received comparable grades. We also found that the overall number of pre-matriculation credits did not impact the number of learning concerns students reported. First-generation and URM students enrolled with fewer pre-matriculation credits, reported a greater number of learning concerns, and received lower first-semester grades than their peers. For female first-generation college students and female URM students, the intersectionality of underrepresented identities resulted in greater adverse outcomes, including more negative outlooks and lower grades, which may have long-term consequences for their retention.

Boyce, H., & Szoo, M. J., & DiMilla, P. A., & Reisberg, R. (2023, June), Examining First-Year Student Success and Attitudes During Challenging Times Paper presented at 2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Baltimore , Maryland. 10.18260/1-2--43539

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