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Impacts Resulting from a Large-scale First-year Engineering and Computer Science Program on Students’ Successful Persistence Toward Degree Completion

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

NSF Grantees: First Year Programming (2)

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NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Paper Authors


Gisele Ragusa University of Southern California

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Gisele Ragusa is a Professor of Engineering Education at the University of Southern California. She conducts research on college transitions and retention of underrepresented students in engineering and also research about engineering global preparedness and engineering innovation. She also has research expertise in STEM K-12 and in STEM assessment. She chairs USC's STEM Consortium.

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Emily L. Allen California State University, Los Angeles

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Emily L. Allen, Ph.D., is Dean of the College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Technology at California State University, Los Angeles. She believes in a collaborative, student-centered approach to research, education, academic administration and leadership. She currently chairs the ASEE Engineering Deans Council Diversity Committee, and serves on the ABET Academic Affairs Council, the TMS Accreditation Committee, and the National Board of Directors for the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. Dr. Allen earned her BS in metallurgy and materials science from Columbia University, and her MS and PhD in materials science and engineering from Stanford University. She previously served as faculty, chair and Associate Dean at San Jose State University's College of Engineering.

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Gustavo B. Menezes California State University, Los Angeles

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Menezes is a Professor of Civil Engineering at Cal State LA. His specialization is in Environmental and Water Resources Engineering. Since becoming part of the faculty in 2009, Menezes has also focused on improving student success and has led a number of engineering education projects. He is currently the Director of the First-Year Experience program at ECST (FYrE@ECST) and coordinates engineering education activities at the college of engineering, computer science and technology (ECST).

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This complete research paper presents the results of a large-scale first-year engineering/computer science program using multivariate statistical approaches.

There is a critical need for more students with engineering, computing and science majors to enter into, persist in, and graduate from postsecondary institutions. Increasing the diversity of the workforce by inclusive practices in engineering and science is also a profound identified need. According to national statistics, the largest groups of underrepresented minority students in engineering and science attend U.S. public higher education institutions. Most often, a large proportion of these students come to colleges and universities with unique challenges and needs, and are more likely to be first in their family to attend college. In response to these needs, engineering education researchers and practitioners have developed, implemented and assessed interventions to provide support and help students succeed in college, particularly in their first year. These interventions typically target relatively small cohorts of students and can be managed by a small number of faculty and staff. In this paper, we report on research in a large-scale specialized, first-year engineering and computer science program at an urban comprehensive university using multivariate statistical approaches. Large-scale intervention programs are especially relevant to minority serving institutions that prepare large numbers of students who are first in their family to attend college and who are also low-income. These students most often encounter academic and socio-economic difficulties and come to higher education with challenging experiences and backgrounds. The first-year program, piloted in 2015, is now in its 5th year of implementation. The program interventions include: (a) first year block schedules; (b) project-based introductory engineering and computer science courses; (c) an introduction to mechanics course, which provides students with the foundation needed to succeed in the traditional physics sequence; and (d) peer-led supplemental instruction workshops for Calculus, Physics and Chemistry.

This study responds to three research questions: (1) What role do the first-year program interventions play in students’ persistence in engineering and computer science majors across undergraduate program years? (2) What role do particular pedagogical and co-curricular structures play in students’ successes? and (3) What role do various student socio-demographic and experiential factors play in the effectiveness of first-year interventions? To address these research questions and therefore determine the formative impact of the first-year engineering and computer science program on which we are conducting research, we collected diverse student data including grade point average, concept inventory scores, and data from a multidimensional questionnaire that measured students’ use of support practices across their 4-5 years in their degree program, and collected various background information to determine the impact of such factors on students’ success and persistence to degree. These include students’ experiences prior to enrolling in college, their socio-demographic characteristics, and their college social capital throughout their higher education experience. For this research, we compared students who were enrolled in the first-year experience program to those who were not enrolled in the first-year program. We engaged in cross-sectional data collection from students’ freshman through senior years and employed multivariate statistical analytical techniques on the collected student data.

Results of these analyses were interesting and diverse. Generally, in terms of backgrounds, our research indicates that students’ parental education is positively related to their success in engineering and computer science across program years. Additionally, the results reveal that the more complex students’ home background is, the more challenging their persistence was, often leading to longer time to degree. Likewise, longitudinally (across program years), students’ college social capital predicted their academic success and persistence to degree. With regard to the study’s comparative research with the first-year program, our results indicate that students who were enrolled in the first-year program as freshmen continued to use more support practices to assist them in academic success across their degree matriculation compared to students who were not in the first-year program. This indicates that the students continued to recognize the value of such supports as a consequence of having such supports as first-year students. In terms of students’ understanding of scientific, engineering focused concepts, we found significant impact resulting from student support practices that were academically focused. We also found that enrolling in the first-year program was a significant predictor of time that students spent preparing for classes and ultimately their grade point average, especially in STEM subjects across students’ years in college. In summary, we found that the first-year program has longitudinal, positive impacts on students’ success as they navigate through their undergraduate experiences toward engineering and computer science degrees.

Ragusa, G., & Allen, E. L., & Menezes, G. B. (2020, June), Impacts Resulting from a Large-scale First-year Engineering and Computer Science Program on Students’ Successful Persistence Toward Degree Completion Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34764

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