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Improving Freshman Retention in an Engineering Technology Program

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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

Student Recruitment and Retention in ET Programs

Tagged Division

Engineering Technology

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.918.1 - 26.918.5



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Paper Authors


Ralph Sprang Pennsylvania State University, Erie

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Dr. Ralph Sprang teaches Electrical and Computer Engineering Technology at Penn State Erie, the Behrend College. He earned the PhD in Electrical Engineering from the University of Pittsburgh, the MSEE from the Johns Hopkins University, and the BSEE from the Ohio State University.

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Stephen A. Strom Pennsylvania State University, Erie

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Stephen Strom is a lecturer in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Technology department of Penn State Behrend, and holds a B.S. in electrical engineering from Carnegie Mellon University. His career includes over thirty years experience in designing and programming embedded systems and has multiple patents for both hardware designs and software algorithms

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Building community to improve Freshman Retention in an Engineering Technology Program High freshman attrition in engineering programs is a significant and growing concern. In2010 and 2011, 45% of first year freshman received a grade of D or F in first semester coursessuch as EET 101, our introductory circuits course, while a grade of C or better is required tograduate in the program. Freshman retention efforts described in this paper resulted in a 17%improvement in freshman retention for fall 2012. We unexpectedly found that prior academic performance is not a good predictor ofstudent success in first year engineering programs. Students must have demonstrated a highlevel of academic success in their high school work to be admitted to the program. This priorsuccess implies they will be successful at the college level, but in practice we do not find thisresult. Evaluation of student records and student interviews show that some of the leastsuccessful first year students achieved the highest levels of performance in high school. Undeveloped study skills are a likely cause of student failure. We hypothesized that topstudents in high school were not challenged and did not have to work hard to achieve highgrades. As a result, they did not have to develop strong study skills and are therefore not wellprepared for college. When thrust into the university environment, they must then either developthose skills very quickly or fail, and sadly many of the students are not able to make thetransition quickly enough. Preliminary work shows a 17% improvement in freshman retention as a result of theprograms implemented. Programs that support development of community, increase studentengagement, and provide training in study skills can improve freshmen retention. Studentretention issues were addressed with a dual approach that combined intentional effort to buildcommunity among the students along with the engagement of peer mentors. Within theclassroom, community building efforts included a number of fun exercises to encourage thestudents to learn each other’s names. In addition, in lab students were paired in groups selectedby the instructor to ensure that each student worked with every other student during the semester.A student club was formed to provide a platform to involve sophomore students as peer mentors.This club was formed and run by the sophomore students with faculty acting in a primarilyadvisory role. This club provided exam review, homework assistance, and study skill trainingsessions, as well as fun activities such as game nights and technical activities such as simplemicroprocessor projects. These programs were implemented in Fall 2012 and resulted in a 17%improvement in freshman retention for this semester.

Sprang, R., & Strom, S. A. (2015, June), Improving Freshman Retention in an Engineering Technology Program Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24255

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