Asee peer logo

Transitioning to the Middle Years: Learning from RedShirt Engineering Students

Download Paper |


2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Minorities in Engineering Division Technical Session 1

Tagged Division

Minorities in Engineering

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Daniel Knight University of Colorado Boulder

visit author page

Daniel W. Knight is the Program Assessment and Research Associate at Design Center (DC) Colorado in CU’s Department of Mechanical Engineering at the College of Engineering and Applied Science. He holds a B.A. in psychology from Louisiana State University, an M.S. degree in industrial/organizational psychology and a Ph.D. degree in education, both from the University of Tennessee. Dr. Knight’s research interests are in the areas of K-12, program evaluation, outreach and teamwork practices in engineering education. His current duties include assessment, team development, outreach and education research for DC Colorado's hands-on initiatives.

visit author page


Beverly Louie University of Colorado Boulder

visit author page

Beverly Louie is the Faculty Advancement Research Associate in the University of Colorado Boulder’s College of Engineering and Applied Science. Formerly she was the Director for teaching and learning initiatives in the Broadening Opportunities through the Broadening Opportunity through Leadership and Diversity (BOLD) Center, Director for the Women in Engineering Program and senior instructor in engineering courses ranging from first-year projects and chemical engineering unit operations. She holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in chemical engineering from CU, and a D.Phil. in mechanical engineering from the University of Oxford, England. Louie’s research interests are in the areas of faculty equity and retention, women’s success in engineering, diversity and inclusive practices, teaching effectiveness, and collaborative learning.

visit author page


Janet Y. Tsai University of Colorado Boulder Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Janet Y. Tsai is a researcher and instructor in the College of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her research focuses on ways to encourage more students, especially women and those from nontraditional demographic groups, to pursue interests in the field of engineering. Janet assists in recruitment and retention efforts locally, nationally, and internationally, hoping to broaden the image of engineering, science, and technology to include new forms of communication and problem solving for emerging grand challenges. A second vein of Janet's research seeks to identify the social and cultural impacts of technological choices made by engineers in the process of designing and creating new devices and systems. Her work considers the intentional and unintentional consequences of durable structures, products, architectures, and standards in engineering education, to pinpoint areas for transformative change.

visit author page

Download Paper |


RedShirting, the practice of adding a performance enhancing first year for underrepresented students in engineering programs, has created an alternative pathway to and through engineering for historically marginalized or minoritized students. While previous studies have focused primarily on recruitment and retention strategies in the first year, a consortium of universities hosting RedShirting programs has collected information on student experiences beyond the first year. The first year of RedShirt programs emphasizes building a strong peer community that can support academic success, a community fostered through “high-touch” participation in required summer bridge experiences, strong advising, first-year courses and study sessions. These lead to a unified experience for most RedShirt students after one year - however, the more relaxed or removed requirements in the sophomore and junior years result in more individualized and less structured approaches to being an engineering student. This paper presents research results that highlight the key themes evident in students’ transitions past the first year, into the middle years of undergraduate engineering, and the effects of RedShirt program structures on success beyond the first year.

This study examines the overall research question: How do the curricular, advising, and cohort-building elements of the RedShirt program impact the students’ experiences in the sophomore or junior year at their university and in engineering? RedShirt students in the sophomore and junior years responded to a semi-structured list of questions through focus group participation, with some individual follow-up interviews. Sophomores were the focus in academic year 2018-2019, while primarily juniors participated in 2019-2020. Themes from data analysis of the qualitative responses were developed. The work draws from a larger investigation conducted under an NSF S-STEM award.

The thematic findings from sophomores and juniors include: academic strategies for responding to more challenging classes; adjusting to a new peer group rather than continued reliance on their RedShirt cohort; developing identity as a minority student learning with mostly majority engineering students; effects of advising interactions with RedShirt program advisors and with engineering programs and majors in general; and, dealing with living arrangements and other external factors that affect their academic environment. Additionally, themes from 2019-2020 include how students adapted to the remote learning environment that replaced their in-person instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic. The discussion addresses the differences between sophomore versus junior years, the approaches used by the various RedShirt programs, and provides comparisons with the pathways of traditionally admitted students in engineering. These insights can lead to an increased awareness of the ways to support all engineering students in the middle years that can lead to better overall retention and academic success.

Knight, D., & Louie, B., & Tsai, J. Y. (2021, July), Transitioning to the Middle Years: Learning from RedShirt Engineering Students Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2021 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015