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Exploring Math Self-Efficacy Among First-Year Civil Engineering Majors

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2020 First-Year Engineering Experience


East Lansing, Michigan

Publication Date

July 26, 2020

Start Date

July 26, 2020

End Date

July 28, 2020

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Mary Katherine Watson The Citadel Orcid 16x16

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Mary Katherine Watson is currently an Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at The Citadel. She holds BS and MS degrees in Biosystems Engineering from Clemson University and a PhD in Environmental Engineering from The Georgia Institute of Technology. She enjoys, and has invested significantly, in the development of her undergraduate students, serving as past faculty advisor for numerous student groups. Dr. Watson is passionate about improving access to engineering education and serves as the faculty director for a scholarship program to recruit and support high-performing, low-income civil engineering students. Dr. Watson is also interested in understanding and assessing students’ cognitive processes, especially development of cognitive flexibility and interactions with cognitive load. Dr. Watson is the proud recipient of seven teaching awards and six best paper awards. She was previously named the Young Civil Engineer of the Year by the South Carolina Section of ASCE and currently serves as a Senior Associate Editor for the Journal of Civil Engineering Education.

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Simon Thomas Ghanat P.E. The Citadel

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Dr. Simon Ghanat is an Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at The Citadel (Charleston, S.C.). He received his Ph.D., M.S., and B.S. degrees in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Arizona State University. His research interests are in Engineering Education and Geotechnical Earthquake Engineering. He previously taught at Bucknell University and Arizona State University.

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Across the country, engineering retention rates are often low and highly correlated with calculus performance. The underlying cause of poor performance in college math courses may be more complicated than just lack of preparedness or ability. Rather, low math self-efficacy may be an important contributing factor to poor performance. Math self-efficacy refers to an individual’s beliefs about understanding math concepts and solving related problems. Among college students generally, past math performance is thought to inform self-efficacy; however, future achievement is most dependent on how students perceive their past performances. Studies examining development and impacts of math self-efficacy for engineering students are somewhat sparse, although some authors report that feelings about math are an important component of general engineering self-efficacy.

The goal of our study is to explore how math self-efficacy develops among civil engineering students and how that self-efficacy might drive their will to succeed as engineering students. Specifically, we address the following questions: (1) To what extent, if any, does math self-efficacy evolve over students’ first academic semester? (2) How does math self-efficacy vary based on students’ high school and college math experiences? (3) To what extent might math self-efficacy be associated with persistence in engineering? We hope to provide insights for how self-efficacy building can be used to encourage retention of diverse engineering students.

Watson, M. K., & Ghanat, S. T. (2020, July), Exploring Math Self-Efficacy Among First-Year Civil Engineering Majors Paper presented at 2020 First-Year Engineering Experience, East Lansing, Michigan.

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