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Improving Student Retention Through a Redesigned First-Year Engineering Class

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

First-Year Issues in ECE Education

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

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Paper Authors


Jonathan Backens Christopher Newport University Orcid 16x16

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Jonathan Backens is an assistant professor of electrical engineering at Christopher Newport University (CNU). He received his Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering from Old Dominion University in 2014 and his B.S. in computer engineering from CNU in 2004.

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Anton Riedl Christopher Newport University

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Dr. Anton Riedl is an Associate Professor of computer engineering at Christopher Newport University and currently the Chair of the Department of Physics, Computer Science and Engineering. Over the past 12 years he has taught a wide range of courses in computer engineering as well as computer science, including, among others, Engineering Design, Data Communications, and Cryptography/Network Security. His research interests are in computer and communication networking, as well as in unmanned autonomous systems.
Dr. Riedl received the M.S. in Electrical Engineering from Purdue University and the Dipl.-Ing. and Dr.-Ing. in Electrical Engineering and Information Technology from Munich University of Technology, Germany.

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C. Gerousis Christopher Newport University

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Costa Gerousis received the B.S., M.S., and Ph.D degree in electrical engineering from Arizona State University in 1994, 1996, and 2002 respectively. His post-doctoral appointment was from 2002 to 2003 with Nano-Research Group, Dept. of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Arizona State University. He joined in 2003 the faculty of Physics, Computer Science and Engineering at Christopher Newport University. His current research interest include nano-devices and architectures and robotics in education.

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Dali Wang Christopher Newport University

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Dali Wang received his Ph.D. degree in electrical engineering from Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, FL. He is currently an associate professor in the Department of Physics, Computer Science and Engineering at Christopher Newport University. His research interests include digital signal processing, artificial intelligence, control and robotics.

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As a small engineering program at a liberal arts institution, we historically experienced low retention rates for our engineering majors. Consequently, we redesigned our introduction to engineering course as an effort to improve retention rate. Firstly, we decided to move the course from the sophomore to the freshman year to help the incoming cohort form a sense of community early on. Then we switched to having full time faculty become the primary instructors in order to increase connections with students. Most significantly, we completely redesigned the content and structure of the course. It used to be a traditional lecture-based course with an emphasis on technical aspects of design and engineering. However, after the change it became an activity driven, student-centric class with focus on active learning to engage students. Students now work on several team-based projects during the semester, which allows various aspects of engineering - problem solving, design, engineering standards, and social considerations - to be grasped in the process. Throughout the semester, there are several design competitions that draw spectators from all disciplines. These competitions teach students something beyond the subjects while being fun at the same time. We intend to use the class as a way for engineering students to build their own community and establish their own identity. We noticed students working in groups in this class tend to stick together afterwards in study groups, which contributed to their success in other classes. In addition to team building, we view the engineering design course as a “career molding” experience by showing the exciting, hand-on side of engineering. We believe all of these aspects contribute to the improvement of student retention rates. In this paper, we will address the motivation for redesigning our engineering experience for first year students based on observations and student retention rates. Then we will include descriptions of the newly designed first year engineering course, with detailed information about our team-based projects. We will discuss both benefits and potential pitfalls of this restructuring. Finally, retention data and trends will be discussed with some conclusions.

Backens, J., & Riedl, A., & Gerousis, C., & Wang, D. (2016, June), Improving Student Retention Through a Redesigned First-Year Engineering Class Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25630

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