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Impacting First-Year Engineering Retention

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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

24.702.1 - 24.702.7



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Paper Authors


Sally J. Steadman University of South Alabama

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Dr. Steadman received a B.S. in Civil Engineering from the University of Wyoming in 1969, an M.A. in Mathematics from the University of Denver in 1973, and a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Wyoming in 1994. She served on the UW faculty from 1984 - 2003, where she made use of her interest in engineering computer applications. She is a part-time instructor at the University of South Alabama where she is also a faculty advisor for Tau Beta Pi and for Mortar Board Senior Honor Society. Dr. Steadman is a past national president of Mortar Board.

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Gail D. Jefferson University of South Alabama

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Dr. Gail D. Jefferson, University of South Alabama
Dr. Jefferson earned a B.S. in Mathematics from Spelman College in 1997, a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology in 1997, an M.S. in Biomedical Engineering from Ohio State University in 2003 and a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Florida A&M University in 2005. She served as a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institute of Aerospace, developing models and test methods to examine the behavior of advanced non-metallic, nanostructured material systems. Dr. Jefferson is currently an assistant professor at the University of South Alabama, where she is also the faculty advisor for the U.S.A. Launch Society and the National Society of Black Engineers.

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Tom G. Thomas University of South Alabama

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Dr. Tom G Thomas, University of South Alabama
Dr. Tom Thomas completed the requirements for a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Alabama in Huntsville in 1997 and joined the faculty at the University of South Alabama in August of 1998. His research interests include image processing, environmental monitoring, robotics, and engineering student outreach. Dr. Thomas is a registered professional engineer in the State of Alabama, and currently serves as the Graduate Program Director for the University of South Alabama College of Engineering.

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Kuang-Ting Hsiao University of South Alabama

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Dr. Kuang-Ting Hsiao, University of South Alabama
Dr. Kuang-Ting Hsiao received his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from University of Delaware in
2000. He joined the Center for Composite Materials at the University of Delaware as a research associate and worked on projects funded by ONR and NSF. Dr. Hsiao moved to the University of South Alabama in 2003 and is currently associate professor of mechanical engineering and faulty advisor of Pi Tau Sigma mechanical engineering honor society at the University of South Alabama. His current research projects in multi-scaled composites, nanocomposites, and nano-enhanced phase change materials at the University of South Alabama are funded by NASA, NSF, DOE, and Alabama EPSCoR. Dr. Hsiao has published over 70 journal and conference papers, six book chapters, and a book in his research areas.

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First Year Engineering Summer SessionRecruiting, teaching, and retaining students in engineering programs are national issues thatcontinue to be addressed in many, varied ways1. A retention program implemented by theUniversity of xxx is designed to improve the retention of high achieving, first year engineeringstudents. Funding for program instruction and materials was provided through NSF EPSCoR, sothere were no costs to the participants.Since many students leave engineering without experiencing the excitement of engineeringdesign, a two week program, Exploring Engineering (E2), was initiated summer 2012 forincoming engineering students. E2 introduces students to interdisciplinary engineering topicsranging from robotics to composite materials. The simulation tool, LabVIEW, which is widelyused in engineering curricula, is used to program LEGO MINDSTORM® robots. Thiscombination provides immediate, visual, verification of project solutions. The students quicklygain skills and facility with both tools, addressing the various assigned tasks in creative ways.The students explore instrumentation, sensors, and control using Lego Robots. They also useLabVIEW, in conjunction with the Lego Robots, to investigate material properties and behaviorfor metals, polymers, and composites. Each topic is introduced by a series of short lecturesfollowed by hands-on interactive laboratory sessions, culminating in an open ended designproject.An accompanying thread for the program is enhancement of critical thinking skills. Basicconcepts of the affective and cognitive principles and strategies essential to critical thinking areintroduced to the students and reinforced in workshop activities.As a result of strong teaming experiences in the workshops, the students work more effectivelyand collaboratively in their coursework. The students also interact one-on-one withundergraduate and graduate engineering students who share their enthusiasm for engineering.These relationships continue into the academic year, providing a support community for the newstudents.Highly motivated, inquisitive incoming freshmen were identified for the program, based on ACTscores, high school GPAs and completed high school coursework (math, chemistry, and physics).Admissions decisions are based on academic achievement and interest. About 25% of eachfreshman class (approximately 60 students per year) have been invited to participate; 12 studentsattended the first year and 14 attended this past summer. Due to cost constraints, the programdoes not include a residential component which would portend that most of the participantswould be from the local area. However, half of the participants reside outside the local area;they either moved into their assigned rooms on campus or stayed with relatives.1 Rising Above the Gathering Storm Two Years Later, Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy,National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine, National AcademiesPress, Washington D.C. , 2009.Results are extremely positive, with both faculty and students highly satisfied with programactivities. Participants are genuinely excited about learning new things – and they are able toquickly pick up concepts. Critical thinking skills are assessed prior to workshop activities andagain following the activities. An average 10% gain in critical thinking skills was observed. Themaximum increase was more than 30%, for an underrepresented minority student. This suggeststhat these types of activities may be quite successful for underrepresented populations and willbe investigated further.The program has greatly impacted the retention of freshmen students. Over 90% of the E2participants remain in STEM majors at the university. The other non attendees in the upper 25%serve as a control group. In this group, 15% have changed majors within engineering, 10% havechanged to non-STEM majors, and 12% have left the institution. Hence, nearly 25% ofincoming engineering students have left STEM fields in the first year, compared to only 10% ofthe E2 participants. Obviously E2 participants are much more committed to careers inengineering than their peers.

Steadman, S. J., & Jefferson, G. D., & Thomas, T. G., & Hsiao, K. (2014, June), Impacting First-Year Engineering Retention Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20594

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