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Getting Students On The Right Track: A Study Of Exit Surveys In A First Year Engineering Program

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

FPD9 - First Year Learning & Assessment

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.643.1 - 13.643.14



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Paper Authors


Jim Chamberlain Clemson University

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Jim F. Chamberlain is a Ph.D. student at Clemson University in Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences. He received his M.S. in Environmental Systems Engineering from Clemson in 1994 and has worked as an environmental consultant for 12 years. His research interests are in the environmental impacts of growing monocultural switchgrass as a biofuel. Jim is a registered professional engineer and a member of the American Society for Engineering Education.

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Lisa Benson Clemson University

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Lisa C. Benson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering and Science Education, with a joint appointment in the Department of Bioengineering, at Clemson University. Her research areas include engineering education and musculoskeletal biomechanics. Education research includes the use of active learning in undergraduate engineering courses, undergraduate research experiences, and service learning in engineering and science education. Her education includes a B.S. in Bioengineering from the University of Vermont, and M.S. and Ph.D.degrees in Bioengineering from Clemson University.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Getting Students on the Right Track: Exit Surveys and Levels of Awareness in First Year Engineering Students


The goals of a first year engineering program are to both provide students with a sound academic preparation for engineering study, and to allow them to explore various engineering disciplines. Through academic advising and career counseling, our program helps students discover the career path that is right for them. We find that about 30% of students choose to leave engineering by the end of their first year of study. These students voluntarily complete an Exit Survey, which includes questions on their level of certainty upon entering the program, people with whom the decision to leave was discussed, the primary motivating factors both to enter and to leave engineering, and what appeals to them about their new majors. We have analyzed over 400 of these Exit Surveys over a four-year period to examine correlations between gender, choice of new major, reasons for leaving, and the impact of different program resources. The study also demonstrates how the survey results can inform and enhance the different aspects of a first year engineering program.

Survey responses show that students vary in their levels of a) understanding the robustness and diversity of engineering as a profession, b) comprehending the need for the foundational concepts presented by math, physics and chemistry, and c) willingness to immerse one’s self in a difficult course of study. A phenomenographic approach is being used to divide survey responses into categories, which can then be correlated to various survey parameters, such as gender, level of certainty upon entering the program, and reasons for leaving engineering.


Engineers use the tools of physics, chemistry and mathematics to solve increasingly complex problems in today’s world. The pool of qualified engineers in the United States has decreased by about 20% since 1985, as indicated by the number of engineering bachelor’s degrees earned by U.S. citizens and permanent residents1. Furthermore, fewer than half of those students who enter as engineering and science majors complete their degrees within five years.

First year engineering programs can perhaps do little to attract new students into their programs. In a generation that is highly media-saturated, engineering as a profession does not enjoy the exposure and dramatic excitement from film and television that are accorded other professions, such as medicine, law, and forensic analysis. Thus, when a student enters a four- to five-year engineering program, they can be expected not only to have questions about what an engineer is supposed to learn but also about what an engineer actually does upon graduation. Only as these become known to the student, can

Chamberlain, J., & Benson, L. (2008, June), Getting Students On The Right Track: A Study Of Exit Surveys In A First Year Engineering Program Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--4062

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