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Mathematics Performance and First Year Retention of Students in Engineering Learning Communities

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

FPD I: Attacking the Problems of Retention in the First Year

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1047.1 - 22.1047.16

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Paper Authors


Yvette Pearson Weatherton University of Texas, Arlington Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Yvette Pearson Weatherton received her Ph.D. in Engineering and Applied Science (Environmental Engineering) from the University of New Orleans in 2000. She is currently a Senior Lecturer in Civil Engineering at the University of Texas at Arlington. Dr. Pearson Weatherton’s expertise is in the areas of air quality – including monitoring and modeling – and engineering education. She is currently PI or Co-PI on a number of NSF-funded engineering education projects including “Focus On Retention in Cohorts of Engineering Students”, which is the subject of this paper. She is a registered Professional Engineer in Louisiana.

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Andrew P. Kruzic University of Texas, Arlington

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Beth R. Isbell University of Texas at Arlington


Lynn L. Peterson University of Texas, Arlington

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Dr. Peterson is Sr. Associate Dean of Engineering for Academic Affairs at U. Texas Arlington College of Engineering, and is Professor of Computer Science and Engineering. Her Ph.D. is in medical computer science from U. Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Research interests are in artificial intelligence, engineering education, and medical computer science. She is a member of the UT Arlington Academy of Distinguished Teachers.

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Carter Tiernan University of Texas, Arlington

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Dr. J. Carter M. Tiernan is the Assistant Dean for Student Affairs in the College of Engineering at the University of Texas at Arlington. Dr. Tiernan directs undergraduate recruiting, student activities, engineering K -12 outreach, and scholarships for the College as well as securing external funding these efforts. Dr. Tiernan also helps coordinate undergraduate research opportunities and retention programs for engineering students and collaborates with the UT Arlington College of Science on STEM outreach activities.

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Vu V. Pham University of Texas at Arlington

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Mathematics Performance and First Year Retention of Students in Engineering Learning CommunitiesStudies indicate that a number of parameters, including quantitative skills, social integration andacademic integration impact student retention to varying degrees. Learning communities arelargely designed to address social and academic integration. This paper compares first yearretention and performance of Fall 2009 incoming freshman students who participated in one offour engineering learning communities called Freshman Interest Groups (FIGs). The purpose isto begin to develop an understanding of the impact of academic support activities on studentretention by evaluating the performance of students in one of the FIGs, called FORCES (FocusOn Retention in Cohorts of Engineering Students), compared to students in the other three. Thestudy will be expanded to include all first-time engineering freshmen. FORCES is funded byNSF’s S-STEM (Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) programand targets students in underrepresented groups for recruitment with the broad goals of removingfinancial barriers and improving student retention.Recognizing that success in mathematics is critical to engineering student success, key FORCESprogram elements were designed with a focus on calculus. FORCES scholars were required todemonstrate first fall semester calculus readiness by either earning an acceptable score on theuniversity’s Math Aptitude Test (MAT) or by completing “Jump Start Math” (JSM), whichconsolidates Pre-calculus I and II into an 8-week summer course. The FORCES cohort had tomeet participation-based requirements focused on academic success as well.All 18 students in the FORCES cohort qualified to enroll in Calculus I in Fall 2009. Forty-fourpercent of FORCES students required JSM during Summer 2009. This is comparable to thefraction of students in the other cohorts (62 total) who were not calculus-ready, which was 42%(26 students). Among the non-FORCES cohorts, first year retention of those enrolled inCalculus I or higher during Fall 2009 was higher (75%) than for those enrolled in Pre-calculus orlower (54%). Although first semester retention of the FORCES cohort was 78%, first yearretention decreased to 50%. Frequency distributions for SAT Math scores were analyzed forcorrelations with GPA, retention, calculus readiness and other parameters. Among all FIGparticipants, FORCES students’ GPAs show a stronger positive correlation with Math SATscores than the others. Interestingly, there is a strong negative correlation between GPA andSAT Math scores among students who did not persist in engineering. There are no statisticallysignificant differences, at the 95% confidence level, in grade point averages among all FIGs;however the percent increase in average cumulative GPA between the first and second semesterswas higher for FORCES (18.9%) than for the others (2.3%).Quantitative and qualitative data collected via surveys are being used to evaluate effectiveness ofFORCES components, as well as the similarities/differences among FORCES, other FIGs andentering engineering freshmen in general. Lessons learned during the first year of FORCESimplementation are being used to modify the program to improve the outcomes for current andfuture cohorts.References (Partial List)Hermond, D. “Measuring the Retention Strategies Minority Engineering Program: A ServiceQuality Perspective”. Journal of Engineering Education. (October 1995): 395-400.Li, Q., Swaminathan, H. and Tang, J. “Development of a Classification System for EngineeringStudent Characteristics Affecting College Enrollment and Retention”. Journal of EngineeringEducation. (October 2009): 361-376.Nicholls, G. M., Wolfe, H., Besterfield-Sacre, M. and Shuman, L. “Predicting STEM DegreeOutcomes Based on Eighth Grade Data and Standard Test Scores”. Journal of EngineeringEducation. (July 2010): 209-223.Veenstra, C. P., Dey, E. L. and Herrin, G. D. “A Model for Freshman Engineering Retention.”Advances in Engineering Education. Vol. 1 No. 4 (2009): 1-33.

Weatherton, Y. P., & Kruzic, A. P., & Isbell, B. R., & Peterson, L. L., & Tiernan, C., & Pham, V. V. (2011, June), Mathematics Performance and First Year Retention of Students in Engineering Learning Communities Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC.

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