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The Roles of Friendship Among First-Year Engineering Students and Upper-Level Project Manager Students on Student Retention

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2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Minneapolis, MN

Publication Date

August 23, 2022

Start Date

June 26, 2022

End Date

June 29, 2022

Conference Session

First-Year Programs Division Technical Session 8: Academic Progress, Retention, and Mathematics

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Yanfen Li University of Massachusetts Lowell

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Yanfen Li is an Assistant Teaching Professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. She received her PhD in Bioengineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Her current research is in engineering education with a focus on curriculum development and retention of female and minority students in engineering.

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Na'imah White University of Massachusetts Lowell

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Na'imah White is an undergraduate Psychology student at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. Her career interests lie in Industrial/Organizational Psychology; therefore, she partnered with Dr. Li from the Department of Biomedical Engineering this year to evaluate interventions applied to a first-year engineering course to assess underlying factors that impact retention. This experience was valuable to not only gain experience in the discipline she wants to pursue, but also to learn more about research methodology. This is her first published paper and conference.

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Karoline Evans University of Massachusetts Lowell

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Douglas Correa Ospina University of Massachusetts Lowell

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Though many students are aspiring engineers upon entry into university, at the end of the 4-year undergraduate period, nearly half will not complete their engineering degree [29]; this is known as the engineering retention problem. Research has shown that there are 6 broad reasons why a student might leave the engineering field and interventions that target several of these reasons are more likely to improve retention [29]. For this study, we observed a group of 54 first-year students enrolled in an introductory engineering course at University of Massachusetts, Lowell that were broken down into subsequent teams of 3-4 students. To aid each team, the role of the project manager (PM) was given to upper-level engineering students that passed a recruitment process. PM eligibility including receiving a B in the intro course and processing effective communication skills. Interested students apply to be a PM with a short essay on why they are interested in project management and leadership. An optional interview is conducted if the course instructor has not worked with the student previously. Project managers are responsible for leading, planning, and monitoring tasks within groups to effectively execute larger projects. Literature on the role of the PM states that the PM serves as a mentor and a bridge between the disconnect of professors and students in terms of teaching and support [28], [29]. Additionally, engineering identity, an integral part of continuing in continuing onto professional engineering [28], [30], is often cultivated throughout university due to students interacting with other social spheres of engineers, including their peers (team members) and mentors (PMs) [28], [30]. We conducted a pre and post survey for the semester-long course and conducted detailed interviews with a select group of students. Our data suggest that friendship has a positive influence on engineering identity, and that the extent to which the PMs actively directed and involved the first-year students in the progress of their projects reflected how the mentees perceived their overall effectiveness, ability, kindness, and approachability. However, the PMs did not have a positive influence on engineering identity.

Li, Y., & White, N., & Evans, K., & Correa Ospina, D. (2022, August), The Roles of Friendship Among First-Year Engineering Students and Upper-Level Project Manager Students on Student Retention Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN.

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