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Increasing Retention in Engineering and Computer Science with a Focus on Academically At-Risk First-Year and Sophomore Students

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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

NSF Grantees’ Poster Session

Tagged Division

Division Experimentation & Lab-Oriented Studies

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.736.1 - 24.736.6



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Paper Authors


Sharon A. Jones P.E. University of Portland

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SHARON A. JONES is Dean of the Shiley School of Engineering at the University of Portland. Her research focuses on decision-making for environmental and infrastructure systems. Dr. Jones received a BS in Civil Engineering from Columbia University, and a PhD in Engineering and Public Policy from Carnegie
Mellon University. She is a licensed professional engineer in California.

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Zulema Naegele University of Portland

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STEP Retention Counselor

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Tammy VanDeGrift University of Portland

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Dr. Tammy VanDeGrift is an associate professor of computer science and the associate dean for the Shiley School of Engineering at the University of Portland. Her research interests in computer science education include perceptions of the field, student preconceptions, and student values. She is also interested in broadening participation in computer science and served as a co-editor for special issues on broadening participation in computing for K-12 and post-secondary education for the ACM Transactions on Computing Education.

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Increasing Retention in Engineering and Computer Science with a Focus on Academically At-Risk First Year and Sophomore Students The program described in this paper seeks to increase retention rates for engineering andcomputer science students and to evaluate the effectiveness of best practices for retention ofacademically at-risk students. The main hypothesis is that students who fall behind their cohortearly in their college career are less likely to be retained in engineering and computer science.As such, we focus this project on the academically “at-risk” student group defined as first-yearcollege students who are not calculus ready and sophomores who are missing up to two coursesnecessary to be classified as part of their class-level cohort. This NSF-funded STEP grant project started in the 2013 – 2014 academic year at theUniversity of X, a private, Catholic comprehensive university serving approximately 3500undergraduate students; of those, approximately 650 are in the School of Engineering. TheSchool is undergraduate-focused and student-centered; as such, the faculty’s primaryresponsibility is to teach, advise, and mentor undergraduates. Several student life offices andtutoring centers support student engagement and development and the University. The 10-year(2001 – 2011) retention rate for 1st semester to 3rd semester for engineering and computer sciencestudents is 77%, but most stay at the University with a different major. The current 57 academically “at-risk” students are encouraged to participate in anongoing retention program directed by the STEP retention counselor. Of the 57, 33 areparticipating in the retention program through regular meetings with the STEP retentioncounselor and through attendance at academic workshops, such as time management and test-taking strategies. Other components of the retention program include networking dinners withalumni, meeting with the staff at the learning resource center, attending professional societymeetings, meeting with staff at Career Services, and one-on-one advising sessions with the STEPretention counselor. Currently under development, a summer bridge program will offer pre-calculus II andIntroduction to Theology for ~14 incoming first-year students who do not test into Calculus.During late-June to early-August, these students will live on campus, attend classes, attendworkshops and tutoring sessions, meet engineers, and visit engineering sites and companies. Both programs will be assessed using institutional research data: tracking the retention of“at-risk” students who participate in the programs, “at-risk” students who do not participate inthe programs, and the “not at-risk” students. In addition to the quantitative metrics, data gatheredfrom focus groups and surveys will be used to identify best practices and improvements for theseprograms. Based on quantitative and qualitative data, the goal of this project is to use, improve,and disseminate best practices for retaining first- and second-year engineering and computerscience students. We will present our data and results regarding the year-long retention programat ASEE 2014 at the NSF Grantees’ Poster Session; data from the summer bridge program willnot be available until September 2014.

Jones, S. A., & Naegele, Z., & VanDeGrift, T. (2014, June), Increasing Retention in Engineering and Computer Science with a Focus on Academically At-Risk First-Year and Sophomore Students Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20628

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