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Understanding First-Year Engineering Student Definitions of Systems Engineering

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2020 First-Year Engineering Experience


East Lansing, Michigan

Publication Date

July 26, 2020

Start Date

July 26, 2020

End Date

July 28, 2020

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Amanda Marie Singer Michigan Technological University

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Amanda Singer is an Environmental Engineering master's candidate at Michigan Technological University. She graduated in 2019 from Michigan Tech with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Engineering. Her current research focuses on perceptions of first year engineering students on the engineering disciplines. She is currently exploring phD options in Engineering Education.

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Jason Mathews Michigan Technological University


Michelle E Jarvie-Eggart P.E. Michigan Technological University

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Dr. Jarvie-Eggart is a registered professional engineer with over a decade of experience as an environmental engineer. She lectures in the Engineering Fundamentals department at Michigan Technological University. Her research interests include online learning, active and collaborative learning, first year engineering programs, sustainability and diversity in engineering.

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This work-in-progress paper examines first-year engineering students’ definitions of engineering disciplines. In this study, 158 second-semester first year engineering students from a public midwestern technical university were asked open ended questions about their definitions of various engineering disciplines. Qualitative analysis of results involved coding for emergent themes by two undergraduate researchers and one faculty member. After each of the three researchers independently coded the responses, meetings were held to discuss the coding, resolve coding differences, and modify the codebook as necessary. As codes evolved, the data was reanalyzed to ensure consistency in coding until convergence was reached among researchers. After all of the data was coded, an analysis identified themes within the data related to student understanding of the definitions of various engineering disciplines was compared with definitions provided by engineering departments within the university, as well as discipline-specific industry associations.

All first year engineering students complete a common first year at this university. The selection of an engineering major is a major focus of first year students. The results of these findings will be used to inform the various engineering departments internal university recruiting and advertising efforts. The common first year classes include engineering explorations to learn about the various disciplines. This reserach will also provide the first year program with an understanding of the effectiveness of its approach at introducing first-year students to the various engineering disciplines. Information about common misconceptions of disciplines or lack of understanding of disciplines will direct future efforts at exploring the engineering majors.

Singer, A. M., & Mathews, J., & Jarvie-Eggart, M. E. (2020, July), Understanding First-Year Engineering Student Definitions of Systems Engineering Paper presented at 2020 First-Year Engineering Experience, East Lansing, Michigan. 10.18260/1-2--35781

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