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Toward A Better Understanding Of Academic And Social Integration: A Qualitative Study Of Factors Related To Persistence In Engineering

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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 Attitudes and Perceptions

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.1267.1 - 15.1267.19



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Paper Authors


Justin Micomonaco Michigan State University

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Justin Micomonaco is a doctoral candidate in Higher, Adult and Lifelong Education at Michigan State University. His research interests include organizational development and various aspects of undergraduate education including living-learning communities, teaching and learning, and preparation of faculty in STEM.

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Jon Sticklen Michigan State University

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

Toward a Better Understanding of Academic and Social Integration: A Qualitative Study of Factors Related to Persistence in Engineering Abstract

In general, the challenge to produce more engineers in the United States can be understood as two-pronged: (a) recruiting students to the field of engineering; and (b) retaining students in the discipline. There have been considerable efforts to recruit additional students to engineering which have yielded modest results. However, the increase in enrollment has not coincided with an increase in engineering graduates. Therefore the departure of students from the discipline remains an issue. Using a recently proposed model of engineer retention by Veenstra et al., this paper examines the first-year experience to better understand the issue of retention in engineering focusing specifically on the broad variables of academic and social integration.

Using semi-structured interviews, I asked questions relating to students’ expectations of the first year, motivation to pursue an engineering degree, satisfaction with the first year and academic and social interactions. The students in the study were first-year students who were completing the second semester of a two-semester introductory engineering sequence. The sample consisted of ten students.

The findings highlight key factors of academic and social integration as perceived by the participants. I argue that within an academic discipline, the lines between academic and social integration in the student experience are blurred such that a general term such as “sense of belonging” is more appropriate. Two main themes emerged from the data with regards to students’ sense of belonging: (a) the impact of participants’ connectivity with peers, faculty and the College of Engineering; and (b) the extent of participants’ socialization to the engineering profession. The primary contribution of these findings is a better understanding of the engineering student experience that suggests a revision to Veenstra et al.’s Model of Engineering Student Retention. In addition, these findings extend previous recommendations related to first- year engineering instructional and student support practices aiming to improve retention rates. Finally the results suggest specific avenues for further research into the impact of these factors on retention rates and the viability of the proposed model.


In the United States, there is growing concern among leaders in government, education and industry about the production of scientists and engineers. The concern centers on the widening gap between the United States and other developed nations in the production of workers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.1,2 Because of the influence of scientific and technological innovation on economic prosperity and national security, leaders at all levels acknowledge the need to address the problem.3

In engineering, enrollment and retention rates have fluctuated over the past two decades resulting in a net decline in the production of engineering graduates.4 Although recent work suggests that the rate of persistence among undergraduate engineers is no different than other fields5, engineering is one of the few fields with a net attrition of students as a cohort moves

Micomonaco, J., & Sticklen, J. (2010, June), Toward A Better Understanding Of Academic And Social Integration: A Qualitative Study Of Factors Related To Persistence In Engineering Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16543

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