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Staying In Engineering: Effects Of A Hands On, Team Based, First Year Projects Course On Student Retention

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

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Page Numbers

8.1029.1 - 8.1029.11



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Paper Authors

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Daniel Knight

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Jacquelyn Sullivan

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Lawrence Carlson

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

Session 3553

Staying in Engineering: Impact of a Hands-On, Team-Based, First-Year Projects Course on Student Retention Daniel W. Knight, Lawrence E. Carlson and Jacquelyn F. Sullivan

Integrated Teaching and Learning Program and Laboratory College of Engineering and Applied Science University of Colorado at Boulder


This study evaluates the impact on student retention of the First-Year Engineering Projects (FYEP) course at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Student retention was measured at the third, fifth and seventh semester for student takers and non-takers of the FYEP design/build course. Data were analyzed for 2,581 students over five years, representing 1,035 students who took the FYEP course (40%) and 1,546 students who did not take the course (60%). Significant gains in retention were found for student takers, and even higher retention rates were observed for students typically underrepresented in engineering — women and students of color. This paper compares these results with reported retention data from other institutions and discusses possible causes and ramifications of the findings.


Student retention has been a concern in engineering education since enrollments began to decline nationally in the mid-1980s. Termed “leakage” from the engineering “pipeline,” an average of 40% of students nationally leave engineering before graduation, with some schools reporting losses up to 70%. Leakage for women and underrepresented ethnic minority students is more troubling, with 70% of women, 70% of Latino students, and 50% of African-American and Native-American students dropping out of engineering before graduation.1 At the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU), a similar pattern is found. Across a 10-year span from 1986-96, dropout rates were 50% overall, 48% for women, 59% for Latino and African-American students, and 70% for Native-American students. 2

Causes of the high leakage rate have been debated by a series of commissions, task forces, conferences and research studies. One of the more comprehensive initiatives to investigate student attrition was conducted by Elaine Seymour and Nancy Hewitt.3 These researchers used qualitative interviewing methods to investigate retention issues for 335 science, mathematics and engineering students at seven, four-year institutions. Students identified a number of factors that contributed to switching majors including poor teaching, lack of peer group support, lost confidence, the competitive culture, problems related to class size, and an overall feeling of having lost interest or having been “turned off” on the subject matter. These results led the

Proceedings of the 2003 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2003, American Society for Engineering Education

Knight, D., & Sullivan, J., & Carlson, L. (2003, June), Staying In Engineering: Effects Of A Hands On, Team Based, First Year Projects Course On Student Retention Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee. 10.18260/1-2--11855

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