Asee peer logo

Influences for Engineering Majors: Results of a Survey from a Major Research University

Download Paper |


2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Pre-College Engineering Education Division Technical Session 20

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education

Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Sandra B. Nite Texas A&M University Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Sandra Nite, Ph.D., is a Research Scientist at in Department of Mathematics at Texas A&M University, where she has taught 10 different courses in mathematics and mathematics education. She has served on several committees in the mathematics department, including course development for teacher education in mathematics. Her research agenda includes engineering calculus success, including high school preparation for college. Previously, she taught 8 additional courses at the college level and 13 different high school courses in mathematics and science. She has worked with teacher professional development for over 20 years, and served as mathematics curriculum coordinator for 8 years. She works with teachers from all corners of Texas with teacher quality grants, including a number of teachers in the juvenile justice schools.

visit author page

author page

Devyn Chae Rice


Rayan Tejani Allen Academy

visit author page

Rayan Tejani is a high school senior, taking AP Calculus BC and planning to major in engineering in college beginning Fall 2020. He is interested in engineering education and entrepreneurship. Currently, he's working with a Texas A&M University professor on an innovative device and possible patent. He is also the president and founder of the Entrepreneurship Club at his high school.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Engineers are critical to sustain and increase the innovation needed to solve U.S. and world problems. Of the fastest growing jobs, 75% are based in science and mathematics, particularly with an engineering focus. But the U.S. is still short of qualified engineers to fill the jobs available. As part of the effort to increase the engineering pipeline this paper explores the influences that are important in college students’ decision to become engineering majors. Social cognitive career theory developed by Xeuli Wang (2013) is the basis of the study. According to this model, an individual’s decision to choose a STEM major is affected by a variety of high school experiences, determined largely by prior mathematics success. Those experiences are important in determining the individual’s goals and interests. In other words, an individual’s background and participation in certain activities affect their learning experiences, and subsequently their self-efficacy, and eventually their career choices. A survey about influences on their decisions to major in engineering was completed by 251 students at a major research university. Possible influences were categorized by type (e.g., informal activities/camps, formal schooling, standardized test scores, success/abilities in STEM courses, social, job opportunities). The survey was a 4-level Likert scale (0 = Not applicable, 1 = None at all, 2 = A little, 3 = A moderate amount, and 4 = A great deal) on which participants were asked how much a given factor influenced their decision. After answering questions about these influences, students were then asked to rank the factors in order of the level of influence. Descriptive statistics, particularly frequency tables, were used to determine the importance of the various factors. Findings include the following: 1) The greatest informal STEM influence was after school programs, as opposed to other opportunities such as summer activities or camps. 2) Of the students who said formal schooling had an influence, the most important was the teacher and student success in the course with 50.8% indicating their science teacher had a “great deal of influence” and 60.5% that their success in science had a “great deal of influence.” 3) Technology class greatest effects were hands-on experiences, success in the courses, and the teacher. 4) Of students who had pre-engineering or engineering classes, 56.8% said those classes had a moderate influence on their decisions to major in engineering; and 5) The greatest influences in pre-engineering or engineering classes were hands-on experiences and the teacher. Clearly, three factors were important for engineering majors in their science, technology, and engineering classes: hands-on experiences, great teachers, and student success in the class. Many dynamics affect students’ major choices, and understanding some of these may be helpful in fostering interest through these influences. This study shows that teachers and their provisions for hands-on experiences are important for engineering majors in one major university. If replication in other places finds agreement, university faculty can help K-12 teachers increase such opportunities.

Nite, S. B., & Rice, D. C., & Tejani, R. (2020, June), Influences for Engineering Majors: Results of a Survey from a Major Research University Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34825

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2020 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015