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Perception versus Reality: Skill Perceptions of First-year Engineering Students

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

ERM Technical Session 4: Professional Development in Undergraduate Programs

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Samantha Lee Russell Grand Canyon University

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Samantha Russell, MS is an Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering at Grand Canyon University where she teaches a variety of interdisciplinary engineering courses. Her research is in various pedagogical techniques in teaching engineering.

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Maria Zafonte Grand Canyon University

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Maria Zafonte, PhD is a professor of English at Grand Canyon University where she teaches a variety of courses including first year composition, young adult literature and a professional writing capstone. Her degrees in counseling, English and psychology complement her varied research interests in teaching and learning which are currently focused on introversion and collaborative learning, blended learning, technology, and APA style.

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First –year engineering students may not have an accurate understanding of the skills necessary for a successful career in engineering. In aiming to address the often concerning persistence rates in STEM, Graham, Frederick, Byars-Winston, Hunter, and Handelsman (2013) identified that “learning and professional identification increase confidence and, consequently… academic success.” Similarly, the purpose of this research was to better understand the motivations and perceptions of first-year engineering students because students tend to focus more on the skills that they see as relevant to the field. Surveys of 324 first-year engineering students were administered in the first week of school. The majority of students responded that math ability and critical thinking were the most important skills for engineering majors, above communication, writing and teamwork, by a statistically significant difference. A statistically significant difference was found with a p-value of 0.000. These perceptions contradict the experience of graduates in the field (Passow, 2013) who ranked those “soft skills” as high. These results directly impact the teaching of first year engineering students because if they do not see the inherent value of these other skills, they are likely to not focus on them with the same level of intensity as the identified skills of math or critical thinking. Instructors of first-year engineering students should ensure that they fully explain the importance of the other skills along with detailed and concrete industry examples to ensure students recognize their value.

Graham, M. J., Frederick, J., Byars-Winston, A., Hunter, A. and Handelsman, J. (2013). Increasing persistence of college students in STEM. Science, 341(6153): 1455-1456.

Passow, H. J. (2012). Which ABET competencies do engineering graduates find most important in their work? Journal of Engineering Education, 101(1), 95-118.

Russell, S. L., & Zafonte, M. (2019, June), Perception versus Reality: Skill Perceptions of First-year Engineering Students Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33168

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