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First-year Engineering Experience from the Rural Student’s Perspective

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

First-year Programs: Student Perceptions and Perspectives

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Joanne Kay Beckwith University of Michigan

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Joanne is a fifth year PhD student in the department of chemical engineering at the University of Michigan.

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Laura Hirshfield University of Michigan

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Laura Hirshfield is a lecturer and researcher at the University of Michigan. She received her B.S. from the University of Michigan and her Ph.D. from Purdue University, both in chemical engineering. She then transitioned into the engineering education field with postdoctoral positions at Oregon State University, Olin College of Engineering and University of Michigan. Her research interests lie in assessing and amending curricula to help students transition from undergraduate to professional practice.

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This complete research paper will describe a qualitative study conducted at a large midwestern university exploring the experiences of students from rural communities during their first year of study in an engineering program.

According to the United States Department of Education, 31.3% of public elementary and secondary schools are in rural communities, serving 21.3% of students in the United States [1]. Of these students, only 27.1% will continue their education their education and enroll in a college or university by the time they turn 24 [1]. Case studies suggest that rural populations are underrepresented in engineering programs at institutions throughout the Midwest [2]. However, these studies do not tell the whole story on the experiences of rural students who enter the engineering field. Educators are aware that there are unique challenges that rural students face when transitioning to institutions of higher learning [3] such as limited advance STEM curricula in high school, lack of engineering mentors or roles models, and lower expectations and confidence. If we do not dig deeper into understanding the experiences of these students while pursuing higher education we will not be equipped to support their college transition.

The work presented here is part of a larger study exploring the experience of rural students in their first year of study as they transition into an engineering course of study at a large university. The work is guided by two research questions: what factors motivate rural students to attend university and enroll in an engineering major, and what perceived barriers do rural students face when starting an engineering major? Using native inquiry [4], we are investigating the lived experiences of students and how rural culture influences their motivation, perceptions and expectations in their first year of an engineering course study.

To explore these research questions, we conducted structured interviews with fifteen first-year students in their first semester of an engineering course of study. The interview questions have been designed to probe specific aspects of each research question and have been divided into six broad categories: descriptions of home, choices/motivation for pursing engineering education, mentorship/relationships, expectations, transition to the university environment, and identity. Interviews will be recorded and transcribed then coded for thematic analysis.

This paper will present a thorough analysis of the barriers that rural students perceive that prevent them from fully engaging in the university environment. We believe that by understanding the lived experiences of rural students we will have better insight in how to support them in the transition from high school to an engineering course of study.

[1] E. S. Provasnik et al., “Status of Education in Rural America,” U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC, 2007. [2] J. J. Versypt and A. N. Ford Versypt, “Mapping Rural Students’ STEM Involvement: Case Studies of Chemical Engineering Undergraduate Enrollment in the States of Illinois and Kansas,” in Proceedings of the 120th ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, GA, June 23-26, 2013, Paper ID #7257. [3] K. M. Ganss, “The college transition for first-year students from rural Oregon communities,” J. Stud. Aff. Res. Pract., vol. 53, no. 3, pp. 269–280, 2016. [4] D. J. Clandinin and J. Rosiek, "Mapping a Landscape of Narrative Inquiry: Borderland Spaces and Tensions," in Handbook of Narrative Inquiry: Mapping a Methodology, D. J. Clandinin, Ed. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publishing, Inc. 2007, pp. 35-76.

Beckwith, J. K., & Hirshfield, L. (2020, June), First-year Engineering Experience from the Rural Student’s Perspective Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34674

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