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How Certainty in Selecting an Engineering Major Is Influenced by First-Year Course Offerings

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

First-Year Programs: Focus on Student Success I

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Andrew Charles Bartolini University of Notre Dame

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Assistant Teaching Professor, University of Notre Dame
Coordinator, First-Year Engineering Program, University of Notre Dame
Awards Chair, First-Year Programs Division, ASEE

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Victoria E. Goodrich University of Notre Dame

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Dr. Victoria Goodrich is an Associate Teaching Professor in the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Notre Dame. She holds a BS in Chemical Engineering from the University of Oklahoma and a MS and PhD in Chemical Engineering from Notre Dame. Her research focuses primarily on Engineering Education issues with specific interest in the first-year curriculum, experiential learning, and diversity and inclusion.

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Kerry Meyers University of Notre Dame

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Dr. Kerry Meyers holds a Ph.D. in Engineering Education (B.S. & M.S. Mechanical Engineering) and is specifically focused on programs that influence student’s experience, affect retention rates, and the factors that determine the overall long term success of students entering an engineering program. She is the Assistant Dean for Student Development in the College of Engineering at the University of Notre Dame. She is committed to the betterment of the undergraduate curriculum and is still actively involved in the classroom, teaching students in the First-Year Engineering Program.

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The following evidence based practice study investigates the role of different first-year course tracks on student retention and major certainty throughout the first year. First-Year programs play an important role in student exploration and decision making processes. As many studies have shown, helping students make an informed decision can reduce time to graduation and increase student retention in engineering disciplines [1-6]. Therefore, it’s of great interest for universities to determine how to best help students understand engineering disciplines and careers, but this is completed in many different ways. Schools may include instruction on the engineering design process, engineering projects, computer programming, major discernment, and many other topics[7]. This paper will explore how one university has changed the first-year curriculum to allow students to customize their first-year experience and how those choices play a role in retention and certainty through the first-year.

This study was completed at a medium sized, private, Midwestern, residential university and compares students enrolled in first-year engineering curriculum in Fall 2020 with students from Fall 2019. In the original form (2019), all students took the same 6-hour course sequence. In that sequence, students took a 3-credit course focused on engineering design projects and engineering major discernment in the fall. Their second 3-credit course, taken in the spring, focused on computer programming. In the new form of the course, all students took a 1-credit course in engineering major discernment in the fall semester and were given a choice for their second engineering course. Students who were more sure of engineering as their major choice enrolled in a 3-credit computer programming course in the fall semester and will take a project based course in the spring semester. The remaining students enrolled in a 2-credit engineering design projects course in the fall and will take a 3-credit computer programming course in the spring.

Because all students received identical major discernment instruction, this study explores the differences in student attitudes based on their enrollment in a project based course or a computer programming course. For both tracks, students were asked their major and certainty in that major (1) at the start of the fall semester and (2) at the end of the semester. Results will focus on student certainty as it relates to their intended major and the first-year course track they completed. Student retention to the spring semester will also be compared between the 2019 cohort and each of the Fall 2020 student tracks.

References: 1. C. E. Brawner, M.M. Camacho, R.A. Long, S.M. Lord, M.W. Ohland, and M.H. Wasburn. Work in progress-the effect of engineering matriculation status on major selection. Paper presented at the 39th Annual Frontiers in Education Conference, San Antonio, TX, USA (2009). 2. B. Olds and R. Miller. The Effect of a First-Year Integrated Engineering Curriculum on Graduation Rates and Student Satisfaction: A Longitudinal Study. Journal of Engineering Education, January, 23(1), pp 23-35, 2004. 3. M. Orr, C. Brawner, M.W. Ohland, and R. Layton. The Effect of Required Introduction to Engineering Courses on Retention and Major Selection. Paper presented at the American Society for Engineering Education National Conference, Atlanta, GA, USA, 2013. 4. J. Richardson and J. Dantzler. Effect of a freshman engineering program on retention and academic performance. Paper presented at the 32nd Annual Frontiers in Education Conference, Boston, MA, USA, 2002. 5. Meyers, K., Goodrich, V., Williams, S., & Spingola, E. (2019) Factors Affecting First-Year Engineering Students' Choice of Majors. International Journal of Engineering Education. Vol. 35, Issue 2. 6. Meyers, K. and Goodrich, V. (2019) Engineering Major Certainty: A Look at Major Discernment Initiatives Pre and Post. American Society for Engineering Education National Conference, Tampa, FL. 7. Reid, K., Reaping, D., and Spingola, E. (2018) A taxonomy for introduction to engineering courses. The International journal of engineering education, ISSN-e 0949-149X, Vol. 34, no. 1, 2018, págs. 2-19

Bartolini, A. C., & Goodrich, V. E., & Meyers, K. (2021, July), How Certainty in Selecting an Engineering Major Is Influenced by First-Year Course Offerings Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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