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Exploring Engineering Major Choice and Self-concept Through First-year Surveys

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

First-year Programs Division: Self Efficacy

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Stacey Leigh Kelly Virginia Tech

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Stacey Kelly is a doctoral student in the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. She received her M.S. in Materials Engineering from Purdue University and her B.S. in Chemical Engineering from North Carolina State University. Her research interests include access to higher education, broadening participation in engineering, and student success and retention.

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Darren K. Maczka Virginia Tech Orcid 16x16

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Darren Maczka is a Ph.D. candidate in Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. His background is in control systems engineering and information systems design and he received his B.S. in Computer Systems Engineering from The University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He has several years of experience teaching and developing curricula in the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Virginia Tech.

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Jacob R. Grohs Virginia Tech

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Jacob Grohs is an Assistant Professor in Engineering Education at Virginia Tech with Affiliate Faculty status in Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics and the Learning Sciences and Technologies at Virginia Tech. He holds degrees in Engineering Mechanics (BS, MS) and in Educational Psychology (MAEd, PhD).

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This Complete Research paper will explore how engineering major choice relates to self-concept measured by a first-year survey. Choice of major is one of the most important decisions a new student can make in terms of their college experience. Major choice determines the type of work the student will be most engaged in, as well as the departmental culture they will experience, both of which have been shown to impact retention and success (Seymour & Hewitt, 1997, June 1). While Engineering is often treated as a unified field of study in relation to other disciplines such as math, science, and humanities, it is also useful to examine major choice within Engineering. Each engineering discipline has a unique disciplinary culture and work practices that may impact who chooses to enter. While a number of factors impact the choice of major before entering college (e.g. see Carnasciali, Thompson, & Thomas, 2013, June 23), we are interested in how that choice changes during a common first-year experience. This research is an important component in assessing the role a common first-year experience has in helping students find a good disciplinary fit. For example, if many students end up changing their mind about their major by the end of the first year this is evidence that a common first year is needed to help new students decide which engineering discipline aligns most with their own values and goals.

A number of identity and motivation constructs have been associated with retention and success within engineering: domain identification, utility, and perceived ability have all been associated with choosing to major in engineering, and academic success within engineering (Jones, Ruff, & Paretti, 2013, September 1; Matusovich, Streveler, & Miller, 2010). The aim of this study is to better understand how these constructs measured at the start of the first-year may relate to engineering major choice at the end of the year.

We explore these relationships by leveraging existing data collected through surveys administered to first-year engineering students. Surveys were administered at three points during students’ first-year in a common engineering program since 2014 and a total of 3796 students responding. From this data we develop a model using logistic regression relating engineering domain identification, utility, and perceived ability to the likelihood to change major choice. Finally, we discuss implications for further research and practice, specifically with regard to a common first-year engineering experience.

Kelly, S. L., & Maczka, D. K., & Grohs, J. R. (2018, June), Exploring Engineering Major Choice and Self-concept Through First-year Surveys Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30487

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