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Examining the Experiences and Perceptions of First-Year Engineering Students

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

First Year Engineering

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.559.1 - 23.559.17



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Paper Authors


Irene B Mena Pennsylvania State University, University Park

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Irene B. Mena has a B.S. and M.S. in industrial engineering, and a Ph.D. in engineering education.

Her research interests include first-year engineering and graduate student professional development.

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Sarah E Zappe Pennsylvania State University, University Park

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Sarah E. Zappe is Director of Assessment and Instructional Support in the Leonhard Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Education at Penn State University. In her current position, Dr. Zappe is responsible for supporting curricular assessment and developing instructional support programs for faculty in the College of Engineering. In her research role, Dr. Zappe is interested in the integration of creativity into the engineering curriculum, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Dr. Zappe holds a doctorate in educational psychology specializing in applied testing and measurement. Her measurement interests include the development of instruments to measure the engineering professional skills and using qualitative data to enhance the response process validity of tests and instruments.

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Thomas A. Litzinger Pennsylvania State University, University Park

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Examining the Experiences and Perceptions of First-Year Engineering StudentsThe College of Engineering at a mid-Atlantic research University is working on a multi-yearstudy that seeks to understand the undergraduate engineering experience and how engineeringundergraduates are being prepared to become engineers of 2020: engineers who are goodcommunicators, creative, and ethical, and who have the skills to work in global andmultidisciplinary teams. One of the components of this study consists of understanding the first-year engineering experience.The purpose of this paper is to describe the first-year engineering experience at the University. Itexplores the first-year students’ definitions of engineering, reasons for majoring in engineering,and perceptions of some of the engineer of 2020 skills and attributes: communication, creativity,global and multidisciplinary teamwork, and ethics. This paper is guided by the followingresearch questions: (1) How do students define engineering? (2) Why did students decide tomajor in engineering? (3) What are some of the positive experiences in students’ first year ofengineering? and (4) What are students’ perceptions of the engineer of 2020 skills and attributes?Data for this study was collected using surveys and interviews. A total of 665 first-yearengineering students completed a survey in the fall 2011 semester. The survey asked studentsabout their reasons for choosing engineering, their confidence in their abilities to becomeengineers, and their openness to experiences that would help them become engineers of 2020. Inaddition to looking at means and distributions by gender, the survey items were analyzed using afactor analysis. The factor analysis grouped items into categories classified as follows:engineering identity, openness to global experiences, doubts about engineering, problem solving,leadership, and teamwork. Forty first-year engineering students who completed the surveyparticipated in one one-hour interview in the spring 2012 semester. Following a semi-structuredinterview protocol, the participants described their reasons for choosing engineering, theirconfidence in their abilities to become engineers, and their perceptions of and experiences withthe engineer of 2020 skills and attributes. In addition, they shared some of the positiveexperiences that characterized their first year of engineering. The data analysis revealedcommon themes within each of the above-mentioned interview categories.The results shared in this paper can be useful to universities and departments interested inunderstanding and improving the first-year engineering experience.

Mena, I. B., & Zappe, S. E., & Litzinger, T. A. (2013, June), Examining the Experiences and Perceptions of First-Year Engineering Students Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19573

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