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The PEERSIST Project: Promoting Engineering Persistence Through Peer-led Study Groups

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

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July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

The Role of Peers in Promoting Learning and Persistence

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Educational Research and Methods

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Thien Ngoc Y Ta Arizona State University

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Thien Ta is a doctoral student of Engineering Education Systems and Design at Arizona State University. She obtained her B.S., and M.S. in Mechanical Engineering. She has taught for Cao Thang technical college for seven years in Vietnam. She is currently a graduate research associate for the Entrepreneurial Mindset initiative at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. Her doctoral research focuses on Entrepreneurship Education and Innovation in Vietnam and in the U.S.

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Gary Lichtenstein Arizona State University

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Gary Lichtenstein, Ed.D., Director of Program Effectiveness for the Entrepreneurial Mindset initiative at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. He is also and founder and principal of Quality Evaluation Designs, a firm specializing in research and evaluation for K-12 schools, universities, and government and non-profit organizations nationwide. He specializes in entrepreneurship education, research and evaluation methods, and STEM retention.

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Cody D Jenkins Arizona State University


Karl A. Smith University of Minnesota - Twin Cities

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Emeritus Professor of Civil, Environmental, and Geo- Engineering, and Morse-Alumni Distinguished University Teaching Professor at the University of Minnesota; and Cooperative Learning Professor of Engineering Education, School of Engineering Education, at Purdue University. E-mail:, web:

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Ryan James Milcarek Arizona State University

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Ryan Milcarek is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy at Arizona State University. He obtained his B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department at Syracuse University. His current research is focused on microcombustion, manufacturing of ceramic materials for solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs), and energy modeling. He also conducts research in engineering education in areas of sustainability, resilience and fuel cell education.

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Samantha Ruth Brunhaver Arizona State University

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Samantha Brunhaver is an Assistant Professor of Engineering in the Fulton Schools of Engineering Polytechnic School. Dr. Brunhaver recently joined Arizona State after completing her M.S. and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University. She also has a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Northeastern University. Dr. Brunhaver's research examines the career decision-making and professional identity formation of engineering students, alumni, and practicing engineers. She also conducts studies of new engineering pedagogy that help to improve student engagement and understanding.

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This quasi-experimental, mixed-methods study extends research into social-cognitive factors that influence STEM retention and persistence by operationalizing social-cognitive variables in an applied setting in order to promote achievement, self-efficacy, and engineering identity--variables linked to engineering persistence [1] - [3].

The Science and Engineering Equal Opportunities Act (1980) made recruiting women and underrepresented minorities (URM) into STEM a federal priority. Yet today, the proportion of URM and women who attain engineering degrees continues to drop relative to the increase in college enrollment [4]. Transfer students, who are disproportionately URM and first-generation college students are a target population for boosting representation in engineering [5] - [7]. At a Southwestern university in the U.S., transfer students take thermodynamics, a required gateway course, in their first or second term. A high failure rate in the course is hypothesized to cause “transfer shock,” resulting in students leaving engineering and higher education altogether [6], [8].

In Spring 2020, the project team initiated the PEER led, Student Instructed, STudy group project (PEERSIST). The model is based on Uri Treisman’s Peer-Led Study Group (PLSG) model, initiated at U.C. Berkeley over 40 years ago and which has been implemented successfully in several contexts since [9] - [14]. PLSGs are not remedial; problems are chosen by the course instructor that range from moderate difficulty to impossible to solve. PLSGs promote competence through peer dialogue, during which disciplinary knowledge is socially co-constructed and refined over successive sessions. Students learn to think like engineers, and thereby develop technical competence, disciplinary identity, and self-efficacy in the major [15]. A TA observes the group, but only intervenes if it is completely stuck or is off in a fruitless direction. This study is unique in that it is the first we are aware of that is deployed in a gateway engineering course, focuses on self-efficacy and disciplinary identity, and uses a quasi-experimental design to assess the effects of peer dialogue vs. traditional recitation.

Research questions are: 1) To what extent does peer-interaction in discipline-based problem solving promote a) student competence in course material, b) enhanced self-efficacy for discipline-based problem solving, c) engineering identity, and d) institutional affiliation? 2) To what extent Is students’ ability to solve discipline-based problems (i.e., thermodynamics) enhanced through peer-dialogue compared to TA-led recitations?

In the fall semester, 2020, 50 students across three sections of the course (8%) were recruited to the study. Approximately half of the students are transfer students. Of the 50 who signed up to participate in study groups, approximately 12 were placed in a TA-led recitation (TARs) comparison group. The same problems were reviewed as those worked on the PLSGs, but without peer dialogue. PLGSs and TARs met for one hour each week for eight weeks, until the final exam. This Work in Progress will review preliminary findings that compare data on course achievement, self-efficacy, and engineering and institutional identity based on participation in PLSGs vs. TARs, and between transfer students and non-transfer students.

REFERENCES [1] E. Litzler & J. Young. “Understanding the risk of attrition in undergraduate engineering: Results from the project to assess climate in engineering.” Journal of Engineering Education, vol. 101, no. 2, pp. 319-345, 2012. [2] W. C. Mau. “Factors that influence persistence in science and engineering career aspirations.” The Career Development Quarterly, vol. 51, no. 3, pp. 234-243, 2003. [3] R. A.Simon, M. W. Aulls, H. Dedic, K. Hubbard & N. C. Hall. “Exploring student persistence in STEM programs: a motivational model.” Canadian Journal of Education, vol. 38, no. 1, 2015. [4] G. Lichtenstein, H. L. Chen, K. A. Smith & T. A. Maldonado. “Retention and persistence of women and minorities along the engineering pathway in the United States”. Cambridge handbook of engineering education research, 2014, pp. 311-334. [5] S. Hurtado, C. B. Newman, M. C. Tran & M. J. Chang. “Improving the rate of success for underrepresented racial minorities in STEM fields: Insights from a national project.” New Directions for Institutional Research, no. 148, pp. 5-15, 2010. [6] J. C. McNeil, M. W. Ohland & R. A. Long. “Entry pathways, academic performance, and persistence of nontraditional students in engineering by transfer status.” In 2016 IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE), pp. 1-7, IEEE, Oct 2016. [7] National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “The Role of 2-Year Institutions in Bachelor’s Attainment.” Snapshot Report, 2017 [Online]. Available: [Accessed July 17, 2020 ]. [8] J. P. Concannon & L. H. Barrow. “A cross-sectional study of engineering students’ self-efficacy by gender, ethnicity, year, and transfer status.” Journal of Science Education and Technology, vol. 18 no. 2, pp. 163-172, 2009. [9] H. Duncan & T. Dick. “Collaborative workshops and student academic performance in introductory college mathematics courses: A study of a Treisman model math excel program.” School Science and Mathematics, vol. 100, no. 7, pp. 365-373, 2000. [10] T. J. Murphy & U. Treisman. “Supporting high achievement in introductory mathematics courses: What we have learned from 30 years of the Emerging Scholars Program.” Making the connection: Research and teaching in undergraduate mathematics education, vol. 18, no. 73, p. 205, 2008. [11] S. C. Hockings, K. J. DeAngelis & R. F. Frey. “Peer-led team learning in general chemistry: Implementation and evaluation.” Journal of Chemical Education, vol. 85, no. 7, p. 990, 2008. [12] S. E. Lewis, & J. E. Lewis. “Seeking effectiveness and equity in a large college chemistry course: An HLM investigation of peer‐led guided inquiry.” Journal of Research in Science Teaching: The Official Journal of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, vol. 45, no. 7, pp. 794-811, 2008. [13] J. J. Snyder, J. D. Sloane, R. D. Dunk & J. R. Wiles. “Peer-led team learning helps minority students succeed.” PLoS biology, vol. 14, no. 3, 2016. [14] A. Tenney & B. Houck. “Peer-led team learning in introductory biology and chemistry courses: A parallel approach.” Journal of Mathematics and Science: Collaborative Explorations, vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 11-20, 2003. [15] R. E. Fullilove & P. U. Treisman. “Mathematics Achievement Among African American Undergraduates at the University of California, Berkeley: An Evaluation of the mathematics workshop program.” The Journal of Negro Education, vol. 59, no. 3, pp. 463-478, 1990.

Ta, T. N. Y., & Lichtenstein, G., & Jenkins, C. D., & Smith, K. A., & Milcarek, R. J., & Brunhaver, S. R. (2021, July), The PEERSIST Project: Promoting Engineering Persistence Through Peer-led Study Groups Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--37881

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