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Full paper: Student persistence in STEM: Exploring the experiences of mechanical engineering students at Loyola Marymount University

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Proceedings of the 2020 ASEE PSW Section Conference, canceled


Davis, California

Publication Date

April 30, 2020

Start Date

April 30, 2020

End Date

October 10, 2020

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Natalie Schaal Loyola Marymount University Orcid 16x16

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Natalie Schaal is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Loyola Marymount University (LMU), in Los Angeles, CA. After receiving her B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Portland, in Oregon, she spent a year in Germany as a Fulbright Scholar, conducting damage detection research at the University of Stuttgart. She received her Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology in Mechanical Engineering. At LMU, her main research areas are divided along two avenues: (1) numerical simulations of earthquake source physics, which relates to her graduate work, and (2) developing, implementing, and assessing the effectiveness of educational interventions that support student persistence in STEM.

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Meredith Jane Richter Loyola Marymount University

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Meredith Richter is a mechanical engineering undergraduate student at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, CA. She is interested in peer-mentoring research because she is a female engineer striving to change the stigma and demographic makeup of STEM disciplines. She is currently involved in her senior design project, which focuses on using additive manufacturing to reduce the weight and increase the efficiency of a weld gun for General Motors.

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Christian Tiong-Smith Loyola Marymount University

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Christian Tiong-Smith is an undergraduate student at Loyola Marymount University (LMU), majoring in Mechanical Engineering. He is passionate about increasing STEM persistence for underrepresented minority students in order to promote a culture of inclusion and to diversify thinking within STEM fields. He is currently involved in restarting LMU’s National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) chapter, as well as in his senior capstone project that looks to take a creative approach towards traditional ASME challenges by constructing autonomous robots with particular objectives.

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There is a growing body of literature that documents how the majority of students who enter college as a STEM major switch out or drop out before graduation. The exit rates from STEM disciplines are even higher for women and other minority groups. In this work, we seek to contribute to the countermeasures by interviewing current mechanical engineering students at Loyola Marymount University (LMU) in an effort to understand the factors that influence their continued persistence towards their degree. This study is based on an anti-deficit framework, meaning that it is aimed at learning from students who are successfully persisting in order to develop interventions that would provide critical support to students who may otherwise leave engineering.

The interview questions in this study are centered on three areas: (1) when participants’ interest in STEM began and what drew them to majoring in mechanical engineering, (2) how participants conceptualize the discipline of engineering and how strongly they personally identify with their understanding of the necessary skills or traits of an engineer, and (3) what challenges to academic success participants have faced and what supportive resources they rely on. In this list, the first area provides context for analysis of the subsequent items, the second area indicates the status of participants’ engineering identity, and the third area explores both their discouraging and encouraging experiences. We are primarily interested in investigating how students interact with academic obstacles, as their strategies for navigating college and their mindset influence persistence. In addition, at the end of the interview, demographic information is collected to allow for the discovery of any related patterns in the experiences of participants who associate with diverse identities.

Currently, transcription and a coding analysis is being performed on the 30-60 minute interviews from the 23 students who have participated so far to illuminate themes in student experiences and strategies. Data collected in this study informs the development of a peer-mentoring program within engineering at LMU, which seeks to improve students’ sense of community, provide strategies for overcoming challenges, and address other themes discovered in this study.

Schaal, N., & Richter, M. J., & Tiong-Smith, C. (2020, April), Full paper: Student persistence in STEM: Exploring the experiences of mechanical engineering students at Loyola Marymount University Paper presented at Proceedings of the 2020 ASEE PSW Section Conference, canceled, Davis, California.

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