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The Chemical Engineering Environment: Catalyst Or Inhibitor To Students' Confidence In Success?

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

ChE: Departmental Issues and Integrating Freshmen into the ChE Program

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.1259.1 - 11.1259.12



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Paper Authors


Deborah Follman Purdue University

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Deborah K. Follman is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering Education at Purdue University. She received a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Cornell University in 1994 and a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from North Carolina State University in 2000. Her research interests include engineering education and gender equity, specifically regarding self-efficacy, issues of gender on student cooperative learning teams, and curriculum development.

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George Bodner Purdue University

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George M. Bodner is the Arthur E. Kelly Professor of Chemistry, Education and Engineering at Purdue University, where he is head of the Division of Chemical Education in the Department of Chemistry and a member of the faculty of the newly constituted Department of Engineering Education.

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Mica Hutchison Purdue University

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Mica A. Hutchison is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Engineering Education and the Department of Chemistry with research interests focused on engineering education and the retention of engineering students. She received her B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Idaho in 2002. Her research is directed by Dr. George M. Bodner and Dr. Deborah K. Follman.

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

The Chemical Engineering Environment: Catalyst or Inhibitor to Students’ Confidence in Success?


The achievement, retention, and interests of undergraduate engineering students have repeatedly been linked to their self-efficacy beliefs - their perceived confidence in their abilities to complete the tasks that they deem necessary to achieve a desired outcome. This study has employed a qualitative survey instrument to monitor undergraduate chemical engineering students’ self-efficacy beliefs during their first year in a chemical engineering program. The survey was administered to all students enrolled in Chemical Engineering Calculations (CHE 205), a course required of all chemical engineering students at Purdue University. Open-ended survey questions prompted the students to list factors that affected their confidence in CHE 205 success. The results presented here examine beginning chemical engineering students’ efficacy beliefs and their sources as they transitioned into the chemical engineering program. The findings suggest how the chemical engineering environment, curriculum, and classroom practices might influence students’ self-efficacy, a significant factor to be considered in attempts to boost both the retention of capable students who are considering leaving the program and the performance, satisfaction, and enthusiasm of those who persist.


The issue of poor retention in engineering programs has become the focus of increased attention across the U.S. The implications of declining retention rates are far reaching. In a three-year, cross-institutional study of 335 science, mathematics, and engineering (SME) students, Seymour and Hewitt1 found many cases for which no significant difference could be identified in the academic performance and individual characteristics of students who decided to leave the SME fields and those who persisted. This finding suggests that able students, who might otherwise provide added perspectives to the field of engineering, are leaving in good academic standing. In a field centered on generating solutions for society, the absence of these students’ perceptions may be particularly detrimental to the relevance of engineering solutions to society as a whole. A future engineering workforce lacking a diversity of perspectives may also be ill equipped to recognize the needs of a diverse society.

In attempts to better understand why the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields are experiencing such a loss of able students, many researchers have turned their focus to the choices, achievement, and interests of students in the fields. As a result, many studies have emerged demonstrating a clear link between students’ self-efficacy beliefs and their persistence,1-8 achievement,2, 8-13 and interest2, 9-13 in the fields. Introduced by Bandura as a part of his social cognitive theory, self-efficacy beliefs describe people’s confidence in their abilities to perform the tasks that they deem necessary to achieve success in a desired area.14 Researchers across the STEM fields have repeatedly used statistical models to demonstrate that increased student confidence in their abilities in a given area (i.e. more positive efficacy beliefs), yields added persistence in that area when faced with challenges,2, 7 higher student GPA’s, 7, 10 and increased interest in course work9 and STEM careers2, 8.

Follman, D., & Bodner, G., & Hutchison, M. (2006, June), The Chemical Engineering Environment: Catalyst Or Inhibitor To Students' Confidence In Success? Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--790

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