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Implementation and Assessment of Required Engineering Exploration Assignments in a First-year Engineering Course

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

First Year Programs Division Poster Session: The Best Place to Really Talk about First-Year Education

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.899.1 - 26.899.12



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Paper Authors


Victoria E Goodrich University of Notre Dame

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Dr. Victoria Goodrich is the Director of the First-Year Engineering Program at the University of Notre Dame. She holds a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Oklahoma and an M.S. and Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Notre Dame. Her research focuses primarily on Engineering Education issues, especially focused within the first-year engineering experience.

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Leo H McWilliams University of Notre Dame


Catherine F Pieronek University of Notre Dame

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Catherine F. Pieronek is associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Engineering at the University of Notre Dame. She holds a B.S. in aerospace engineering and a J.D. from the University of Notre Dame, as well as an M.S. in aerospace engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles. A member of the College of Fellows of the Society of Women Engineers, she focuses her academic research on the factors that affect the persistence of women in engineering.

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Implementation and Assessment of Required Engineering Exploration Assignments in a First-Year Engineering CourseStarting in fall 2012, the first-year engineering course at University A has required students tocomplete four “Engineering Explorations” over the course of each semester of their first year.These are loosely defined as “any event related to your growth as an engineering student” andtypically consist of professional development events, student group meetings, and departmentallectures. The Engineering Exploration assignment series was instituted so that students canaffirm or clarify their future discipline before officially entering their major of choice. While thebasic assignment has remained the same each year, the application has changed in some wayeach year. In 2012, four regularly scheduled class sessions were cancelled to provide additionaltime for students to attend or reflect on their events. Students were provided a list of possibleevents to attend and regular announcements were made of appropriate events that were beinghosted around the university. Based on student feedback from the first year’s offering and therecognition that the cancelled classes provided additional opportunities to bring in explorationcontent, the second year offering was modified. The first-year instructional staff scheduledEngineering Exploration events to occur during the normally scheduled class time and in theregular class location. One such exploration had the Dean of the College of Engineeringprovided a lecture on the National Academy of Engineering’s Grand Challenges. In both years,students documented their participation by listing the events and writing a short summary andreflection as evidence of completion.Because students were free to choose events of interest to them, the continued implementationand evolution required understanding what types of events students attended. There is anadditional interest in if attendance at a certain event (or a series of events) is indicative of studentinterest in engineering or their propensity to continue in engineering for another semester. Forthis study, a subset of students’ fall semester reflections were assessed only for what event wasattended. In each year 100 students were randomly chosen from the students who continued inengineering from the fall to spring semester (termed “stayers”) and all students who droppedengineering after the first semester (termed “leavers,” 48 in 2012 and 73 in 2013). Afterreviewing the events attended for this subset of students, several important trends emerged:(1) A large diversity of events were attended with over 70 unique events recorded for both 2012and 2013 sample groups.(2) The most popular categories of events included major discernment, professionaldevelopment, company sponsored events, and student engineering club meetings.(3) In both years, highly convenient events were the most popular events attended. For this study,a highly convenient event is defined as something that requires very little planning or effort for astudent to attend, such as one-on-one meetings, reading a paper, in-class activities, or missingevents.This paper details the additional findings that delve deeper into the student attendance rates forvarious events. For both 2012 and 2013, a chi-squared analysis confirmed that those who leftengineering attended high convenience events at a higher frequency than those who stayed inengineering. In 2013, 30.1% of leavers attended only in-class events compared to only 17% ofthose who stayed for at least one more semester (chi-square p-value of 0.04), indicating that byhaving in-class events students are possibly more easily able to disengage with the engineeringdiscipline as a career path. These findings could lead to a meaningful approach to identifyingstudents with low interest in continuing in engineering and creating meaningful content for them.

Goodrich, V. E., & McWilliams, L. H., & Pieronek, C. F. (2015, June), Implementation and Assessment of Required Engineering Exploration Assignments in a First-year Engineering Course Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24236

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