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Promoting Engineering Identity Through a Pre-Semester Freshman Design Competition

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

First-Year Programs Division Technical Session 7: The Transition from High School to College

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1274.1 - 26.1274.10



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Paper Authors


Robert A. Green Mississippi State University

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Robert A. Green is the Undergraduate Coordinator with the James Worth Bagley College of Engineering at Mississippi State University and past president of the National Society of Professional Engineers. In addition to issues related to the success of engineering students, Mr. Green’s areas of interests include Engineering and Public Policy and Engineering Ethics.

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M. Jean Mohammadi-Aragh Mississippi State University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. M. Jean Mohammadi-Aragh is an assistant research professor with a joint appointment in the Bagley College of Engineering dean’s office and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Mississippi State University. Through her role in the Hearin Engineering First-year Experiences (EFX) Program, she is assessing the college’s current first-year engineering efforts, conducting rigorous engineering education research to improve first-year experiences, and promoting the adoption of evidence-based instructional practices. In addition to research in first year engineering, Dr. Mohammadi-Aragh investigates technology-supported classroom learning and using scientific visualization to improve understanding of complex phenomena. She earned her Ph.D. (2013) in Engineering Education from Virginia Tech, and both her M.S. (2004) and B.S. (2002) in Computer Engineering from Mississippi State. In 2013, Dr. Mohammadi-Aragh was honored as a promising new engineering education researcher when she was selected as an ASEE Educational Research and Methods Division Apprentice Faculty.

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James Warnock Mississippi State University

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James Warnock is the Interim Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies in the Bagley College of Engineering at Mississippi State University. His background is in biomedical engineering and he has been a big proponent of self-directed learning and active learning in his classes and was the first person to introduce problem-based learning in the department of agricultural and biological engineering at MSU. James is also the Adjunct Director for training and instruction in the professional services department at ABET. In this role, Warnock oversees the development, planning, production and implementation of the ABET Program Assessment Workshops, IDEAL and the assessment webinar series. He also directs activities related to the workshop facilitator training and professional development.

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Promoting Engineering Identity through a Pre-Semester Freshman Design CompetitionRetention of engineering students is an ongoing issue, particularly from the first to second year.One theoretical lens that has been applied to this issue is engineering identity. We know thatstudents are more likely to persist in engineering if they can identify with engineering orengineering-related activities. At the same time, we also know that first-year engineeringstudents do not have a strong engineering identity. Weak engineering identity among first-yearengineering students is a result of limited exposure to engineering activities in K-12 and in thefirst-year. For example, in the first year, most engineering curricula include one or fewerengineering courses per semester as students’ schedules are primarily filled with calculus,chemistry, physics and English composition courses. When addressing first to second yearretention issues, it is prudent to create ways to promote engineering identity development.Beam and her co-authors (2009) suggested an extended summer orientation as one wayengineering educators can promote a stronger engineering identity among first-year students. Atour university, students move into their residence halls ten days before classes begin. Thisprovided an opportunity for the college of engineering to collaborate with student affairs inorganizing an academic activity to promote engineering identity development, and, in August2014, we offered our version of an extended summer orientation: a pre-semester freshmenengineering design competition. Our five-day design competition provided an opportunity forfirst-time freshman engineering students to participate in engineering related activities and learnabout the engineering design process. Of the 713 first-time freshman engineering students, 153registered for the competition. Of the students that registered, 76 actively participated in thecompetition.Our design competition was based on the National Engineers Week Future City Competition,whereby students were placed in teams and asked to design the city of the future using SimCity™ software. Students were divided into eight teams and each student received acomplimentary license of Sim City™. In addition to the competition, students attended four shortseminars that addressed study skills and participated in a “selfie” scavenger hunt. At the end ofthe five-day competition, teams presented their final design in a format similar to the PechaKucha presentation style. Students were judged on their ability to use engineering designprinciples to specifically address transportation and energy requirements for their cities. In orderto raise awareness of the competition, competition winners were announced at the engineeringprofessional society fair, held the second week of the fall semester.In this paper, we fully describe the design competition rationale, implementation, and evaluationin sufficient detail for others seeking to create a similar event at other universities. With an eyetowards continuous improvement, we evaluated the design competition based on studentparticipation rates, team presentations and design reports, post-competition student surveyresponses, and organizer perceptions. We combine this data into a set of recommendations forothers seeking to establish similar programs.Beam, T., Pierrakos, O., Constantz, J., Johri, A., & Anderson, R. (2009). Preliminary findings onfreshman engineering students' professional identity: Implications for recruitment and retention.American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference. Austin, TX.

Green, R. A., & Mohammadi-Aragh, M. J., & Warnock, J. (2015, June), Promoting Engineering Identity Through a Pre-Semester Freshman Design Competition Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24611

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