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Understanding the Educational Path of Non-Calculus-Ready Students in Engineering

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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

First-Year Programs Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Anika Coolbaugh Pirkey West Virginia University Orcid 16x16

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Anika Pirkey is currently a PhD student and Graduate Research Assistant with the Department of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering at West Virginia University (WVU) with a research focus in computational cancer immunology. She graduated Summa Cum Laude with a BSChE and BME Certificate in 2017 from West Virginia University (WVU).

Mrs. Pirkey also works as a Graduate Research Assistant with the Fundamentals of Engineering Department as a continuation of her undergraduate research focusing on increasing retention rates of non-calculus ready first year engineering students by improving their problem solving and critical thinking skills in mathematics. Other publications to which she has contributed include "Introducing First Year Engineering Students to Engineering Reasoning" and "Critical Thinking Skills in First Year Engineering Students" presented at the Annual ASEE Conferences in 2017 and 2016 respectively.

Awards include 1st Place in the Student Poster Session - Individual Researchers Category and 1st Place in the North Central US Region Student Paper Competition, both of which were received at the 2017 ASEE Zone II Conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

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Lizzie Santiago West Virginia University

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Lizzie Y. Santiago, Ph.D., is a Teaching Associate Professor for the Freshman Engineering Program in the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources. She holds a Ph.D. in chemical engineering and has postdoctoral training in neural tissue engineering and molecular neurosciences. She teaches freshman engineering courses and supports the outreach and recruiting activities of the college. Her research interests include neural tissue engineering, stem cell research, absorption of air pollutants in human upper airways, attrition and university retention, increasing student awareness and interest in research and engineering, STEM education, and recruitment and retention of women and minorities.

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The educational system is failing students and college readiness have sunk to record lows. Readiness levels in English, Reading, Mathematics, and Science have all decreased since 2015, with English and Math recording the largest decline. According to the American College Testing (ACT) organization, thirty six percent of the 2019 graduates met none of the ACT benchmarks. According to the 2019 ACT scores, the percent of ACT-tested high school graduates meeting ACT college readiness benchmarks by subject was 39% for Mathematics and 36% for Science. Readiness levels were also small for underserved minorities with only nine percent of the underserved learners meeting three or more of the ACT college readiness benchmarks.

At XXX University, 29% of students accepted in the engineering program are not ready for Calculus. Those students begin their first semester in engineering while enrolled in either Pre-calculus or College Algebra. Approximately19% of engineering program students begin their first semester enrolled in College Algebra. This study addresses the educational path followed by engineering students that begin in College Algebra. For this study, the educational path of 242 students (18.6% female, 81.4% male) was followed for 4 semesters. Institutional databases were used to assess students’ persistence in engineering and at the institution, cumulative grade point average (GPA) and grades in Math courses. For those students that ultimately transfer out of engineering, the non-engineering disciplines selected and student persistence in that non-engineering discipline were also investigated.

With the national increase in the number of students interested in engineering but not ready for Calculus, this study contributes to a better understanding of the educational path followed by these students. The overall goal is to improve the persistence of non-Calculus ready students in engineering. This study benefits those institutions with a large percentage of students interested in engineering, but are not ready for Calculus when they start in college.

Pirkey, A. C., & Santiago, L. (2021, July), Understanding the Educational Path of Non-Calculus-Ready Students in Engineering Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--37967

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