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Factors Impacting Retention and Success of Undergraduate Engineering Students

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

NSF Grantees’ Poster Session

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.758.1 - 26.758.19



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Paper Authors


Stephen J Krause Arizona State University

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Stephen Krause is professor in the Materials Science Program in the Fulton School of Engineering at Arizona State University. He teaches in the areas of introductory materials engineering, polymers and composites, and capstone design. His research interests include evaluating conceptual knowledge, misconceptions and technologies to promote conceptual change. He has co-developed a Materials Concept Inventory and a Chemistry Concept Inventory for assessing conceptual knowledge and change for introductory materials science and chemistry classes. He is currently conducting research on NSF projects in two areas. One is studying how strategies of engagement and feedback with support from internet tools and resources affect conceptual change and associated impact on students' attitude, achievement, and persistence. The other is on the factors that promote persistence and success in retention of undergraduate students in engineering. He was a coauthor for best paper award in the Journal of Engineering Education in 2013.

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James A Middleton Arizona State University

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James A. Middleton is Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Director of the Center for Research on Education in Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology at Arizona State University. For the last three years he also held the Elmhurst Energy Chair in STEM education at the University of Birmingham in the UK. Prior to these appointments, Dr. Middleton served as Associate Dean for Research for the Mary Lou Fulton College of Education at Arizona State University for 3 years, and as Director of the Division of Curriculum and Instruction for another 3 years. He received his Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1992, where he also served in the National Center for Research on Mathematical Sciences Education as a postdoctoral scholar for 3 years.

Jim’s research interests focus in the following areas where he has published extensively: Children’s mathematical thinking; Teacher and Student motivation in mathematics; and Teacher Change in mathematics. He is currently developing methodologies for utilizing the engineering design process to improve learning environments in Science, Engineering and Mathematics. He has also written on effective uses of educational technology in mathematics and science education as a natural outgrowth of these interests. To fund his research, Jim has garnered over $20 million in grants to study and improve mathematics education in urban schools. He just finished a $1.8 million research grant to model the longitudinal development of fractions, rational number and proportional reasoning knowledge and skills in middle school students, and is currently engaged in a project studying the sustainability of changes in urban elementary teachers’ mathematics practices. All of his work has been conducted in collaborative partnerships with diverse, economically challenged, urban schools. This relationship has resulted in a significant (positive) impact on the direction that partner districts have taken, including a significant increase in mathematics achievement in the face of a rising poverty rate.

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Eugene Judson Arizona State University Orcid 16x16

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Eugene Judson is an Associate Professor of for the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University. His past experiences include having been a middle school science teacher, Director of Academic and Instructional Support for the Arizona Department of Education, a research scientist for the Center for Research on Education in Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Technology (CRESMET), and an evaluator for several NSF projects. His first research strand concentrates on the relationship between educational policy and STEM education. This provides policymakers and the educational community an improved understanding of how changes in educational policies impact STEM teaching and learning. His second research strand focuses on studying STEM classroom interactions and subsequent effects on student understanding. He is a co-developer of the Reformed Teaching Observation Protocol (RTOP) and his work has been cited more than 1200 times and his publications have been published in multiple peer-reviewed journals such as Science Education and the Journal of Research in Science Teaching.

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John Ernzen

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Kendra Rae Beeley


Ying-Chih Chen Arizona State University

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Ying-Chih Chen is an assistant professor in the Division of Teacher Preparation at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona.

His research takes two distinct but interrelated paths focused on elementary students’ learning in science and engineering as well as in-service science teachers’ professional development. The first focus involves how language as a learning tool improves students’ conceptual understandings, literacy, and representation competencies in science. His second research focus is on how in-service teachers develop their knowledge for teaching science and engineering in argument-based inquiry classrooms. This research is aimed at developing measures of teachers’ Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK) for adopting the argument-based inquiry approach, as well as developing tools to capture the interactive nature of PCK.

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Factors Impacting Retention and Success of Undergraduate Engineering StudentsEngineering student persistence and retention to graduation usually ranges from 45% to 55% for most publicinstitution engineering colleges. As such, a major goal of this NSF CHANGES (Championing EducationalChange through Assessment for the Next Generation of Engineers' Success) project has been to explore some ofthe major student and institutional factors that impact persistence. This includes the extent to which evidence-based instructional practices have been implemented at a major southwestern university. A web-enabledassessment framework and processes have been implemented and are generating information from students andfaculty participating in the study. A major emphasis is on courses and faculty teaching them for lower levelfreshman and sophomore general and disciplinary core engineering courses, as well as foundational courses ofmath, chemistry and physics. Recent activities and results are described below for the three areas of facultybeliefs, student performance and retention, and student co-curricular activities.Faculty beliefs were measured with the Faculty Learner Centered Attitudes Beliefs Protocol (FCABP) whichsurveys faculty on their learner-centered beliefs. Data from a total of eight STEM instructors showed a widevariation of faculty beliefs that spanned from mainly student-centered to mainly teacher-centered. To furtherassess the degree of student-centered teaching, the same faculty were also interviewed and observations made oftheir classroom teaching practice using the RTOP (Reformed Teaching Observational Protocol) instrument.Although the sample size was relatively small, the interview results generally aligned with the survey results.There was roughly a linear relationship between the RTOP classroom observations and the results of theFCABP. It was generally found that instructors who were more teacher-centered had lower RTOP scores thaninstructors who were more student-centered. In the second area of student persistence, the first result was that, ofthe roughly 50% of students that departed from engineering prior to graduation, 90% of them did so within thefirst two years while only 10% left in the last two to four years leading to graduation. It was also found that theimpact of first time freshman first math class on persistence and graduation was dramatic. For first-time-freshman students with A or B in a math course above calculus I, 80% persisted to graduation, while studentswhose first math course was calculus I had 65% persistence to graduation and students whose first math coursewas below the level of calculus I had only 35% persistence to graduation. For students at any level whowithdrew or received a grade of C or lower, their chances of graduating were less than 20%. The third area wasco-curricular student support programs, experiences, and activities such as UG TAs, Tutoring Center,Supplemental Instruction, Student Residential Communities, and co-curricular experiences. Such experiencesincluded Undergraduate Research, E2 Freshman Camps, and Professional Societies. The impact of these supportprograms was found to be that, two-year persistence improved from 51% to 58% over a five-year span fromwhen the student support programs were initiated. This occurred in spite of the fact that first-time freshmanenrollments almost doubled over that five year span from 658 to 1195 students. Other factors for which data isstill being gathered include departmental and interdepartmental culture effects on student persistence. Overall,the results to date indicate the following. There is a strong need for faculty professional development to shiftpedagogy more toward student-centered learning. Entering students need to be calculus ready and the studentswould likely benefit from more effective teaching in early math courses. Finally student support programs andco-curricular activities appear to improve students' sense of belongingness, as well as help develop students'engineering professional identity. These and other additional results will be more fully described and discussedin the full paper. 1

Krause, S. J., & Middleton, J. A., & Judson, E., & Ernzen, J., & Beeley, K. R., & Chen, Y. (2015, June), Factors Impacting Retention and Success of Undergraduate Engineering Students Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24095

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