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Kindling Undergraduate Interests In Engineering Through Energy And Public Policy

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1999 Annual Conference


Charlotte, North Carolina

Publication Date

June 20, 1999

Start Date

June 20, 1999

End Date

June 23, 1999



Page Count


Page Numbers

4.352.1 - 4.352.6

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Sandra D. Yeigh

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 1333

Kindling Undergraduate Interests in Engineering Through Energy and Public Policy

Bjong W. Yeigh, Sandra D. Yeigh Oklahoma State University


When first-year students arrive on campus and declare engineering as the major of choice, she/he often does not understand the differences among disciplines (e.g., mechanical vs. industrial) within engineering. In the first two and one-half years of their college studies, most engineering students take theory-based courses. Often these courses weed out students more so than retain them. It is not until the final three or four semesters do undergraduate students experience the "fun" in engineering through team and individual projects where they create and engineer solutions to engineering problems. Would it not serve these students well if we can introduce such creative processes earlier? The answer is an emphatic "yes." However, in the first half of students’ academic careers, they do not have the theory and engineering maturity to tackle many problems. This is truly a catch-22 problem.

Energy policy issues are all around us. From clean coal technology to electric utility restructuring, energy policy problems make the headlines everyday. Most students can read and understand the issues at hand. This is the channel the authors explored. Several students in the first two years of engineering experienced firsthand research methodologies and communication skills necessary in engineering through exploring energy policy issues. In simple terms, students were able to learn order of magnitude estimation, risk, cost and benefit analyses, and some systems modeling without upper-level courses in engineering. Students also gained hands-on experience in simulation through system dynamics feedback mechanisms. Students who participated in the first phase of this program are now entering their final year of undergraduate study. Two students in this group are now examining and modeling Oklahoma’s power markets under the proposed utility restructuring. In short, the energy and public policy approach to recruitment and retention of students has worked well in this small-scale effort.

I. Issue

Why do students transfer out of engineering? Are engineering schools and faculty doing enough in recruitment and retention of highly qualified students? Several sociological studies identified root causes of student attrition in engineering 2, 4. Seymore 4 determined that institutional sources and career-related concerns influenced students to switch out of engineering rather than the common assumption of personal inadequacy. She went on to rank specific factors contributing to switching. At the very top of this list was lack or loss of interest in science. Women tend to learn more passively than men 3. Women students in engineering suffer additional loss of confidence in a male-dominated field. Although this difference existed long

Yeigh, S. D. (1999, June), Kindling Undergraduate Interests In Engineering Through Energy And Public Policy Paper presented at 1999 Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina.

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