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First-Year Student Persistence and Retention Influenced by Early Exposure to Engineering Practitioners Co-Teaching Entry-Level Courses: A Four-Year Indirect Assessment

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

FPD 3: Retention

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.613.1 - 24.613.13



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Paper Authors


Peter A Sable Milwaukee School of Engineering

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Peter Sable is an undergraduate research assistant at the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) where his focus is on engineering education. At MSOE, Mr. Sable is a senior mechanical engineering student minoring in mathematics. He also holds an A.S. degree from Northwest Missouri State University (NWMSU) which was completed through the Missouri Academy of Science, Mathematics and Computing (MASMC), an early-entrance-to-college program. He intends on pursuing a Ph.D in engineering.

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Sharon Liz Karackattu

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Sharon L. Karackattu earned a B.S. in Interdisciplinary Studies: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the University of Florida in 2000 and completed a Ph.D. in Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2006. She served as a postdoctoral associate in MIT’s Biological Engineering Division before spending two years as a Research Coordinator for Student Development at University of North Texas. She is currently a freelance educational researcher and consultant. She has taught college-level courses in the biosciences and maintains an interest in studying students pursuing the STEM fields.

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Matthew J. Traum Milwaukee School of Engineering Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Matthew J. Traum is an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the Milwaukee School Of Engineering (MSOE). He received a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology [2007] where he held a research assistantship at MIT’s Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies (ISN). At MIT he invented a new nano-enabled garment to provide simultaneous ballistic and thermal protection to infantry soldiers. Dr. Traum also holds a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from MIT [2003] with a focus on cryogenics and two bachelor’s degrees from the University of California, Irvine [2001]: one in mechanical engineering and the second in aerospace engineering. In addition, he attended the University of Bristol, UK as a non-matriculating visiting scholar where he completed an M.Eng thesis in the Department of Aerospace Engineering [2000] on low-speed rotorcraft control. Prior to his appointment at MSOE, Dr. Traum was a founding faculty member of the Mechanical and Energy Engineering Department at the University of North Texas where he established an externally-funded researcher incubator that trained undergraduates how to perform experimental research and encouraged their matriculation to graduate school. Dr. Traum also serves as the founding Chief Technology Officer at EASENET, a start-up renewable energy company he co-founded with former students to commercialize residential scale waste-to-energy biomass processor systems.

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First-Year Student Persistence and Retention Influenced by Early Exposure to Engineering Practitioners Co-Teaching Entry-Level Courses: A Four-Year Indirect AssessmentAbstractThe engineering education literature currently lacks long-term studies on persistence andretention impacts realized by teaching first-year engineering students about possible post-graduate career options via exposure to practicing engineers. At the University of X (UX),incoming mechanical engineering (ME) students (both freshman and transfers) participated in amandatory two-course sequence which included a significant component to highlight theeveryday work of various practicing engineers. Classes were team-taught by faculty and localengineers from industry and government. Faculty shared their research activities and academicexperience while practicing engineers discussed their industry work.Indirect assessment of students’ persistence and retention preferences was evaluated using ananonymous survey administered on the first day of class and then re-administered on the last dayof class. A one-year pilot study spanning two semesters was conducted during the 2007 – 2008academic year. In this study, students self-reported constant pre/post levels of interest inengineering, but they also reported a statistically significant decline in desire to remain in the MEprogram. This outcome was unexpected. While students’ desire to persist in engineeringremained positive and unaffected for the duration of each semester, their intention to remain inthe ME program dropped by the end of each term. The hypothesis explaining this apparentinconsistency was that familiarizing first-year engineering students with the activities and dutiesthey may encounter in their careers as practicing engineers encouraged and reinforced theircommitment to their chosen engineering major – positive and unwavering persistence. However,this same exposure coupled with other experiences in their engineering curriculum also madestudents aware that their chosen major may not be the best match for their interests or abilities,and there may be a better choice within other available engineering majors – negative retentionwithin the major. The term “soft weeding” was invoked to denote empowering students to makeinformed decisions about their chosen major through a low-risk introductory course before theypursue a program to which they are poorly matched. The goal of “soft weeding” is to allowstudents to correctly place themselves in the best-fit engineering major to avoid frustration andpoor performance in later upper-division courses and eventual withdrawal.Conclusions from this pilot study could have significant bearing on the design of introductoryengineering courses for freshman and transfer students. It could also inform administrativepolicy at engineering colleges; whether it is advantageous for students to choose a major early orinstead complete common engineering core courses and declare a major after becoming betteracquainted with the various available program options. Unfortunately, the pilot study onlyevaluated a single class of students over two semesters. With no comparison populationavailable, this cohort could have held biases that make it difficult to extend the pilot studyconclusions to the general engineering student population of any undergraduate program.We therefore report here the results of an extended four-year study, performed in identicalfashion to the one-year pilot study. Pre/Post indirect assessments were given to four uniquecohorts of students in entry-level ‘Engineering Practice’ courses between Fall 2007 and Spring2011. The four-year study results are compared to the outcomes from the pilot study tostrengthen its validity by using a larger, more diverse student population less prone to the bias ofa single class cohort.

Sable, P. A., & Karackattu, S. L., & Traum, M. J. (2014, June), First-Year Student Persistence and Retention Influenced by Early Exposure to Engineering Practitioners Co-Teaching Entry-Level Courses: A Four-Year Indirect Assessment Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20504

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