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Should I Stay Or Should I Go? Engineering Students' Persistence Is Based On Little Experience Or Data

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Knowing our Students, Part 1

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.1277.1 - 12.1277.22



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Paper Authors


Gary Lichtenstein Stanford University

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Gary Lichtenstein, Ed.D., is a Consulting Associate Professor of Engineering at Stanford University, specializing in quantitative and qualitative research methods. His areas of intellectual interest include engineering education, community-based research, and education evaluation and policy. His extensive teaching experience includes courses on qualitative research methods (for graduate students), and on writing and critical thinking (for students ranging from high school to professionals). He lives in southeast Utah. He can be contacted at:

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Heidi Loshbaugh Colorado School of Mines

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Brittany Claar Colorado School of Mines


Tori Bailey Stanford University

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Tori Bailey is a Ph.D. student at the Center for Design Research in the Mechanical Engineering Department at Stanford University. Her research interests include academic and professional identity development of engineering students, academic advising of engineering students, history of engineering education in the U.S., and the organization of engineering education programs. Ms. Bailey received a Bachelor's Degree in Mathematics from Spelman College and a Bachelor's Degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology where she was a NASA Women in Science and Engineering Scholar. She also holds a Master's Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University.

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Sheri Sheppard Stanford University

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Should I Stay or Should I Go?: Undergraduates’ Prior Exposure to Engineering and Their Intentions to Major

Abstract This research contributes to the body of literature relating to how environmental effects of classroom instruction, departmental culture, and institutional structure influence students’ decisions to major in engineering. Engineering students at two different higher education institutions were interviewed (n=32) and surveyed (n=76) during their freshman and sophomore years. Interview questions and survey items probed students’ exposure to engineering prior to college and the strength of their intentions to major in engineering. Findings reveal that most students have very limited exposure to and knowledge of engineering before they begin college. In addition (and possibly as a result), students’ intentions to major in engineering waiver, even while they actively complete engineering requirements. Nearly all students in our sample were entrepreneurial in seeking experiences within and outside of engineering to help them decide on their major. Implications of this research are that 1) attrition rates from engineering may be inflated, and 2) classroom, departmental, and institutional adjustments could increase retention of students in engineering.

Persistence in Engineering Education From the era of Sputnik through to the present, concerns about preparing sufficient numbers of engineers to meet the demands of industry and national security have gained national attention.1,2,3 Specifically, researchers have sought to understand the attrition from fields requiring preparation in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). From 1975 through 1999, attrition from STEM programs has continued, to the point where the U.S. has slipped from third to fourteenth place among twenty countries worldwide in the proportion of twenty-four- year olds who hold STEM degrees.2

Researchers over the past thirty years have studied several factors related to enrollment and attrition of students in engineering programs. These factors can be grouped as past, present, and future variables. Past factors include high school grade point average (GPA), SAT scores, parent income, race, gender and ethnicity, high school math attainment, to name a few. Present variables include college GPA, factors related to school environment, and student effort and beliefs. Future variables include students’ beliefs about salary and work demands, career attainment, and expectations related to marriage and family.3

While student demographics and social history influence college choice, current research is increasingly examining the effects of the college experience itself on students’ decisions relating to their major and career. In particular, research into engineering persistence is examining the academic environment—classroom instruction, social pressures, departmental culture, and institutional structure—to determine the extent to which these factors impact students generally, and in particular women and minority candidates.4

Daempfle found that faculty interaction as well as interactive classroom instruction does have an effect on retention, though student background and gender influence the extent of these effects.5 Jackson et al. looked at past, present, and future variables of those who persisted and those who did not persist in engineering majors and found first-year GPA to be the strongest predictor of

Lichtenstein, G., & Loshbaugh, H., & Claar, B., & Bailey, T., & Sheppard, S. (2007, June), Should I Stay Or Should I Go? Engineering Students' Persistence Is Based On Little Experience Or Data Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2177

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: © 2007 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