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Students Improving: Identifying Factors That Seem To Matter

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Student Learning

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.1132.1 - 15.1132.23



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Paper Authors


Elizabeth Otto Stanford University

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Elizabeth Otto is a second year graduate student at Stanford University pursuing a Ph.D. degree in Applied Physics with interests in Biophysics and Science and Engineering Education. She received her B.S. degree from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in 2008 in Physics and Mathematical Sciences and expects to receive an M.S. degree from Stanford University in Applied Physics in 2010.

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Helen Chen Stanford University

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Helen L. Chen is a Research Scientist at the Stanford Center for Innovations in Learning and Research Associate in the Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education. Her current research interests focus on the application of ePortfolio pedagogy and practices to facilitate teaching, learning, and assessment for students, faculty, and institutions. She is also interested in the exploration of the affordances and scalability of these kinds of social software tools and their implications for the design and evaluation of innovative learning spaces to support formal and informal learning.

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Sheri Sheppard Stanford University

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Sheri D. Sheppard is the Burton J. and Deedee McMurtry University Fellow in Undergraduate Education, Associate Vice Provost for Graduate Education, and Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University. She is also a consulting senior scholar at the Carnegie Foundation, having directed the Preparations for the Professions Program (PPP) engineering study, and co-authored the study's report Educating Engineers: Designing for the Future of the Field (2008). Before coming to Stanford University, she held several positions in the automotive industry, including senior research engineer at Ford Motor Company's Scientific Research Lab. She earned a Ph.D. at the University of Michigan.

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



In this paper we explore engineering student gains in confidence in professional and interpersonal skills and intrinsic psychological motivation to study engineering. These two factors were selected because they have been shown in other work from the Academic Pathways Study (APS) sponsored by the Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education (CAEE) to be directly related to post-graduation plans and to several dimensions of the undergraduate experience. We focus on students with positive confidence and/or motivation gains during their first two years of college, and show that these students are distinct from those with negative or no gains in terms of persistence in the engineering profession, confidence in math and science skills and perceived importance of math and science skills to engineering. Interviews of these “positive gain” students and their “negative gain” peers suggest differences in their attitudes toward and experiences with math and science.


Recent findings from the Academic Pathways Study (APS) have shown that among the factors that predict the post-graduation plans of seniors—plans to pursue engineering or non-engineering work and plans to attend engineering or non-engineering graduate school—are students’ confidence in their professional and interpersonal skills and their level of intrinsic psychological motivation to study engineering. These two variables, when taken in combination, also distinguish the overall college experience of students. Sheppard et al. (2010) delineated findings showing that seniors who are both highly confident and motivated are highly involved in college; they are more involved in extracurricular activities including research, co-op, internship and non- engineering activities, report higher gains in knowledge, and interact more with faculty than students who are at the bottom end of confidence and motivationi. Those with high motivation/low confidence and low motivation/high confidence report levels of involvement intermediate to students at the two extremes.

Otto, E., & Chen, H., & Sheppard, S. (2010, June), Students Improving: Identifying Factors That Seem To Matter Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--15879

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