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Understanding Diverse and Atypical Engineering Students: Lessons Learned From Community College Transfer Scholarship Recipients

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session I

Tagged Topics

Diversity and NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Paper Authors


Melani Plett Seattle Pacific University

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Prof. Melani Plett is a Professor in Electrical Engineering at Seattle Pacific University. She has over eighteen years of experience in teaching a variety of engineering undergraduate students (freshman through senior) and has participated in several engineering education research projects, with a focus on how faculty can best facilitate student learning.

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Angelina Lane Seattle Pacific University


Donald M. Peter P.E. Seattle Pacific University

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Don has taught electrical engineering at Seattle Pacific University since 1987, specializing in analog and power electronics, Before that he worked as a design/evaluation/diagnostics engineer at Tektronx, Inc. for eleven years. He has been involved in various consulting projects, including two summers as a NASA Summer Faculty Fellow at the Jet Propulsion Laborary in Pasadena, CA. He has a B.S. in Physics from Seattle Pacfic University and an MSEE from the University of Washington. Don is an IEEE senior member and member of the ASEE.

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With funding from the National Science Foundation’s S-STEM grant program, the ECASE (Engaging the Community to Achieve Success in Engineering) Scholarship at Seattle Pacific University (SPU) has targeted transfer students from urban and rural community colleges in the region. For the past nine years, this program has provided scholarship and other support funds to assist these transfer students in obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering. The goal of the ECASE Scholarship is to provide pathways for financially needy, academically talented transfer students to thrive in the university environment, enter the workforce as well-trained engineers, and engage the community as service-minded leaders. Generally, these students came to SPU from low-income households, underrepresented populations, and atypical backgrounds. By examining our body of ECASE scholars in this paper, we aim to expand perceptions about who could, who would, and who does succeed in earning the rigorous undergraduate electrical engineering degree.

This paper includes a discussion of the lessons learned from interacting closely with 49 ECASE scholarship recipients and supporting them in an adaptive manner to address their individual needs. The paper provides composite illustrations of the range of their backgrounds and unique situations. It highlights the challenges faced by these students during matriculation at SPU and details the interventions and support provided to these students, according to their distinct needs as engineering students from diverse and non-traditional backgrounds. Specifically, this paper includes examples of such supports, including: individual tutoring, individual mentoring, advising by an assigned faculty member, and delayed due dates when necessary, among others. While some students have personal obstacles or lack preparation for university education that prevented them from continuing even with extensive support, most (89%) recipients of the ECASE scholarship have succeeded with the appropriate academic, social, emotional, and professional supports. This paper will present composite narratives representing student uniquenesses, challenges, commonalities and supports. It will discuss the scenarios in which supports have facilitated the successful matriculation and graduation of diverse, underrepresented, and atypical engineering students, as well as when the supports have fallen short. Finally, it will describe the challenges for providing such supports, such as faculty time, student availability, community acceptance/integration, and student preparedness. This paper will also include suggested strategies for overcoming these challenges.

Plett, M., & Lane, A., & Peter , D. M. (2016, June), Understanding Diverse and Atypical Engineering Students: Lessons Learned From Community College Transfer Scholarship Recipients Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.27096

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