Asee peer logo

Measuring First-Year Engineering Majors' Interest in Engineering

Download Paper |


2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

First-Year Programs: Focus on Student Success I

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

Brian Scott Robinson University of Louisville


Tom Tretter University of Louisville Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Dr. Thomas Tretter is professor of science education, director of the Center for Research in Mathematics and Science Teacher Development, and director of the Gheens Science Hall and Rauch Planetarium at the University of Louisville. His scholarship includes collaborative efforts with science and engineering faculty targeting retention of STEM majors in entry-level STEM courses.

visit author page


James E. Lewis University of Louisville

visit author page

James E. Lewis, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering Fundamentals in the J. B. Speed School of Engineering at the University of Louisville. His research interests include parallel and distributed computer systems, cryptography, engineering education, undergraduate retention and technology (Tablet PCs) used in the classroom.

visit author page


Nicholas Hawkins University of Louisville Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Nicholas Hawkins is an Assistant Professor in the Engineering Fundamentals Department at the University of Louisville. Nick received his B.S., M. Eng., and PhD from the University of Louisville in Electrical and Computer Engineering. His research interests include power electronics and controls, as well as engineering education for first-year students.

visit author page

Download Paper |


This work-in-progress paper is focused on exploring the effectiveness of a formal, makerspace-based course, required for all first-year engineering students at the XXXXX (XXXX) at the University of XX (XXX), in increasing first-year engineering retention. The project will study the impact that the research-identified interest-in-engineering construct has on engineering student retention. The ultimate goals are to characterize an effective formal makerspace experience in terms of enhancing student engineering interest and improving engineering retention, especially first-year engineering retention, without lowering academic standards. Research will be specifically focused on a relatively new course titled Engineering Methods, Tools, and Practice II (ENGR 111), that centers around a suite of hands-on makerspace-based activities. Preliminary results show that ENGR 111 has a positive influence on student interest in engineering; however, more research is needed to understand the impact and the causal mechanisms of this intervention. The conceptual framework for this study has two phases. The first phase will focus on first-year engineering student retention; the second phase will focus on longer term student retention through the “gateway” phase of the XXXX engineering program. Research on the formal makerspace experience will include studying the role that individual makerspace features play in influencing student interest in engineering, with a particular focus on differences in impact that these features may or may not have on historically underrepresented students. We will also assess the extent to which makerspace course feature enhancements, implemented and refined based on Phase 1 outcomes, influence first-year retention in engineering. The second phase of the project explores the relationship between retention and two different levels of the interest-in-engineering persistence barrier: short-term interest triggered in the moment (situational interest) and long-term interest that is maintained (individual interest).

A major contributing factor to ongoing low-level retention rates in STEM fields is the nature of many first- and second-year gateway courses, resulting in an undesirably large number of student attrition. We hypothesize that if student experiences can be implemented in the first year that outweigh the discouragement resulting from experiences in certain early courses, then students will be more likely to persevere through these courses and persist in engineering. While makerspaces have excited considerable interest, much of the research on makerspace impacts and practices have focused on K-12 and informal education. Little is known about how a well-designed makerspace-based engineering course can address barriers to first-year students’ persistence in engineering. This study will provide a better understanding of the potential of makerspace pedagogy in addressing common reasons why first-year engineering students drop out of engineering school. Institutions that do not have the advantage of makerspace resource(s) could still benefit from this study by an increased understanding of the impact interest in engineering has on student retention. In turn, strategies that address this barrier could still be employed in other engineering classrooms and/or programs.

Enhancing first-year engineering student retention is expected in turn to increase the number of people who obtain a degree in engineering. The potential in improving retention without lowering academic standards has a significant positive bearing on the status of society, since there will be more members joining the workforce while still possessing the knowledge and skills necessary to be a positively contributing member of the engineering community. The first-year retention barrier identified for investigation within this study play a particularly prominent role in retention of women and underrepresented minorities in engineering.

Robinson, B. S., & Tretter, T., & Lewis, J. E., & Hawkins, N. (2021, July), Measuring First-Year Engineering Majors' Interest in Engineering Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--37493

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: © 2021 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