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Novel Program for Engineering Student Retention

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

First-Year Programs (FPD) Poster Session

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.932.1 - 23.932.10

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Paper Authors


Gail D. Jefferson University of South Alabama

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Dr. Jefferson earned a B.S. in Mathematics from Spelman College in 1997, a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology in 1997, an M.S. in Biomedical Engineering from Ohio State University in 2003 and a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Florida A&M University in 2005. She served as a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institute of Aerospace, developing models and test methods to examine the behavior of advanced non-metallic, nanostructured material systems. Dr. Jefferson is currently an assistant professor at the University of South Alabama, where she is also the faculty advisor for the U.S.A. Launch Society and the National Society of Black Engineers.

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Sally J. Steadman University of South Alabama

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Dr. Steadman received a B.S. in Civil Engineering from the University of Wyoming in 1969, an M.A. in Mathematics from the University of Denver in 1973, and a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Wyoming in 1994. She served on the UW faculty from 1984 to 2003, where she made use of her interest in engineering computer applications as well as student recruitment and retention. She is a part-time instructor at the University of South Alabama where she is also a faculty advisor for Tau Beta Pi and for Mortar Board Senior Honor Society. Dr. Steadman is a past national president of Mortar Board.

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Tom G Thomas University of South Alabama


Kuang-Ting Hsiao University of South Alabama

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Dr. Kuang-Ting Hsiao received his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from University of Delaware in 2000. He joined the Center for Composite Materials at the University of Delaware as a research associate and worked on projects funded by ONR and NSF. Dr. Hsiao moved to the University of South Alabama in 2003 and is currently associate professor of mechanical engineering and faulty advisor of Pi Tau Sigma mechanical engineering honor society at the University of South Alabama. His current research projects in multi-scaled composites, nanocomposites, and nano-enhanced phase change materials at the University of South Alabama are funded by NASA, NSF, DOE, and Alabama EPSCoR. Dr. Hsiao has published over 70 journal and conference papers, six book chapters, and a book in his research areas.

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Novel Program for Engineering Student RetentionRetaining students in engineering programs is a national problem that has been addressed inmany, varied ways. The University of xxx has implemented a novel program to increaseretention in engineering, especially among high achieving students. A pilot program, FreshmanResearch Experience in Engineering (FREE), was conducted last summer with extremelysuccessful outcomes. Funding for program instruction and materials was provided through NSFEPSCoR, so there were no costs to the participants.Students spent two weeks immersed in interdisciplinary engineering topics ranging from roboticsto composite materials. LabVIEW programming was integrated into each topic. The studentsexplored instrumentation, sensors, and control using Lego Robots. They also used LabVIEW toinvestigate material properties and behavior for metals, polymers, and composites. Each topicwas introduced by a series of short lectures followed by hands-on interactive laboratory sessions,culminating in an open ended design project.An accompanying thread for the program was critical thinking. Following a brief exposure tobasic concepts of the affective and cognitive principles and strategies essential to criticalteaching, the students took an on-line test to evaluate their critical thinking skills beforebeginning the workshop activities. The same test was administered as a post test, with anaverage increase of 10 % in their skills. The maximum increase was over 30% for anunderrepresented minority student. This suggests that these types of activities may be quitesuccessful for underrepresented populations and should be investigated further.The research activities were conducted in a team environment, hence the students had strongteaming experiences and will be able to work more effectively and collaboratively in theircoursework. The students also interacted one-on-one with undergraduate and graduateengineering students who shared their enthusiasm for engineering.Highly motivated, inquisitive incoming freshmen were identified for the program, based on ACTscores, high school GPAs and completed high school coursework (math, chemistry, and physics).Admissions decisions were based on academic achievement and interest (demonstrated throughan essay). The program was offered to 60 students (27% of the freshman class) and 12 wereaccepted for the program. Due to cost constraints and unknown demand, the program did notinclude a residential component which would indicate that most of the participants would befrom the local area. However, half of the students came from distant cities and moved into theirrooms on campus or stayed with relatives.Formal assessment of the program is underway. Preliminary results are extremely positive, withboth faculty and students highly satisfied with the program activities. FREE participants weregenuinely excited about learning new things – and they were able to quickly pick up concepts.In fact, they requested a challenging last task. Their parents were also exposed to their activities,through demonstrations on the final day. It is obvious that the program ignited interest inengineering for the students. Funding is available to expand this program in coming years.

Jefferson, G. D., & Steadman, S. J., & Thomas, T. G., & Hsiao, K. (2013, June), Novel Program for Engineering Student Retention Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia.

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