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Retention in a First Year Program: Factors Influencing Student Interest in Engineering

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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

FPD 2: Retention

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.1045.1 - 23.1045.10



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Paper Authors


Lizzie Santiago West Virginia University

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Lizzie Y. Santiago, Ph.D., is Teaching Assistant Professor for the Freshman Engineering Program in the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources at WVU. She holds a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the Pennsylvania State University and postdoctoral experience in neural tissue engineering from the University of Pittsburgh and National Institutes of Health (NIH). She teaches freshman engineering courses and supports the outreach and recruiting activities of the college. Her research interests include neural tissue engineering, stem cell research, absorption of air pollutants in human upper airways, attrition and university retention, increasing student awareness and interest in research and engineering, STEM education, and recruitment and retention of women and minorities.

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Retention in a First Year Program: Factors Influencing Student Interest in EngineeringStudent retention continues to be a challenge in engineering education. US Academicinstitutions are reporting student retention rates in engineering that varies in the range of 40-60%. Engineering programs are recognizing the fact that students capable of completing anengineering degree are switching from engineering to pursue non-engineering disciplines.Several studies, including one presented by our research group, have identified the lack ofinterest in engineering as a field of study, the lack of interest in pursuing an engineeringdiscipline being offered at an academic institution, and academic difficulty, as the self-reportedleading reasons for switching from engineering to pursue a non-engineering degree.Furthermore, Seymour and Hewitt have presented evidence that both “persisters” and “non-persisters” are academically similar. If lack of interest is the leading reason for the switch, aquestion to ask is, which factors and/or events trigger this change of interest in pursuingengineering?The purpose of this study is to understand how the first semester experience influences student’sdecision to continue a degree in engineering. Particularly, we are interested in understandingwhich factors and/or events trigger a change of interest in pursuing engineering. The authorsstudied 131 first semester engineering students enrolled at a large land grant university in themid-Atlantic region. An entrance survey administered during the second week of classesprovided an insight on student’s level of interest in pursuing engineering, the reason to pursue anengineering degree, and whether a student have chosen an engineering discipline to pursue.Several surveys administered at strategic time points during the semester were used to track levelof interest in pursuing engineering and to identify key events that can be consider as precursorsto leaving engineering. Reflection essays were also employed to understand how the firstsemester experience affects student’s perception of engineering as a career of choice.An analysis of entrance surveys indicated a high level of interest in pursuing an engineeringdegree in most students surveyed. Key events, such as their first calculus test, triggeredindecision in some of the students. Early results identified a group of students at risk of leavingengineering during the first semester of college. Key events identified as precursor to leavingengineering are discussed, as well as the implications for potential intervention programs toaddress increasing student interest as well as academic success in engineering.

Santiago, L. (2013, June), Retention in a First Year Program: Factors Influencing Student Interest in Engineering Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22430

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