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The Freshman Engineering Experience: Results from a Mixed-Method Evaluation Study

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

FPD IX: Research on First-Year Programs and Students, Part II

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1461.1 - 22.1461.25



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Paper Authors


Jae Hoon Lim University of North Carolina, Charlotte

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Dr. Jae Hoon Lim is an Assistant Professor of Research Methods at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and teaches introductory and advanced research method courses in the College of Education. Her research interests include socio-cultural issues in mathematics education and various equity topics in STEM fields. She has served as a lead investigator for multiple international and comparative educational research and evaluation projects. She published twenty-five articles in scholarly and professional journals world-wide and authored seven book or monograph chapters.

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Patricia A. Tolley University of North Carolina, Charlotte


Kimberly Warren University of North Carolina, Charlotte

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Dr. Warren is an Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UNC, Charlotte. She conducts research in the area of geotechnical engineering with a specific interest in earth retaining structures designed with geosysnthtic (polymeric) materials. She conducts large, full-scale field experiments that are highly instrumented to monitor and analyze the behaviors of civil engineering structures. In the past few years, Dr. Warren has also received funding to conduct engineering education research with the goals of 1.) working in a multi-disciplinary team to increase the retention of engineering students at UNC, Charlotte and 2.) separately enhancing a core Geotechnical Engineering course by implementing interactive curriculum tools and creating an interactive learning environment in the classroom.

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Peter Thomas Tkacik University of North Carolina, Charlotte

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Dr. Peter Thomas Tkacik is an Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte with a Motorsports focus. His areas of research are teaching, visual based experimental methods and fluid dynamics. He has advised six Graduate Students, 38 undergraduate (UG) seniors, eight UG summer research experiences, 48 high school summer program kids, and has been the advisor for three UNC, Charlotte student race teams.

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The Freshman Engineering Experience: Results from a Mixed-Method Evaluation StudyA mixed-method research design was used to investigate the attitudes, perceptions, andexperience of students enrolled in an introduction to engineering course at a large urban researchinstitution in the Southeast during fall 2009. Major contextual and individual factors wereincorporated into the study to evaluate their influence on students’ persistence in the major. Thisstudy is part of a comprehensive, long-term effort to improve freshman engineering retention.Data were obtained from 256 students who completed the Pittsburgh Freshman EngineeringAttitude Survey (Besterfield-Sacre, Atman, & Shuman, 1997) at the beginning and end of thesemester. Fourteen classroom observations and in-depth individual interviews with three courseinstructors, four teaching assistants, and 46 students were collected. An adjusted alpha of .001was used for the 50 paired sample analyses. Qualitative thematic analysis was then used to betterunderstand how and why significant changes occurred.By the end of the semester, there was a statistically significant difference in students’ perceptionsof the major and the profession. Although they were more likely to believe that engineers aremore concerned with improving the welfare of society than other professions, they were lesslikely to believe that the future benefits of studying engineering were worth the effort. They alsohad a less favorable view of engineering professionalism, and they were less likely to beinterested in engineering as a career. However, by the end of the semester, 87.5% of the studentsstill liked engineering as a career. Students expressed less confidence in their chemistry skills,but they were more confident in their engineering and writing abilities. Students were also morelikely to have friends that were studying engineering.The follow-up qualitative data analysis showed some contrasting patterns between male andfemale students’ peer relationships and support systems. While almost all Caucasian malestudents developed a new peer relationship and support system with each other during thesemester, the majority of female students listed their family as their primary support system.There were also gender differences relative to the value and enjoyment of group projects. Almostall female interviewees highly rated the value of their group project and related learningexperience. In contrast, one third of male students identified some negative aspects of theirgroup-based project experience, including lack of teammate participation and difficulty incoordinating tasks and schedules. Despite female students’ high satisfaction with the groupprojects, both interview and class observation showed that their roles in the group projectstended to be peripheral as compared to their male counterparts.This study expands the existing literature related to freshman engineering persistence. Findingsreveal that the curriculum, learning environment, and support networks are critical componentsin shaping students’ attitudes, perceptions, and experiences, all of which influence their decisionto remain in the major. In particular, male and female students may develop different supportsystems, each presenting some advantages and limitations. Collectively, this knowledge isvaluable for designing a robust and holistic freshman year experience that facilitates a successfultransition into college and success in the major. ReferencesBesterfield-Sacre, M., Atman, C. J., & Shuman, L. J. (1997). Characteristics of freshman engineering students: Models for determining student attrition in engineering, Journal of Engineering Education, 139- 149.

Lim, J. H., & Tolley, P. A., & Warren, K., & Tkacik, P. T. (2011, June), The Freshman Engineering Experience: Results from a Mixed-Method Evaluation Study Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18710

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