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Using Prompted Reflective Journaling to Understand Nontraditional Students in Engineering

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2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Minneapolis, MN

Publication Date

August 23, 2022

Start Date

June 26, 2022

End Date

June 29, 2022

Conference Session

ERM: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

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Paper Authors


Cory Brozina Youngstown State University - Rayen School of Engineering

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Dr. Cory Brozina is the Associate Chair for the Rayen School of Engineering at Youngstown State University.

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Aditya Johri George Mason University

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This research paper is a study of the support needs of nontraditional students in engineering (NTSE). Nontraditional students in engineering are one segment of the student body that has traditionally not been a part of the conversation in engineering education– those students who do not go through a typical four-year college degree largely at a residential campus. It is only by better understanding the range of issues that NTSE face that we will be able to design interventions and support systems that can assist them. Recent work in engineering education particularly argues that co-curricular support is a critical factor in student success as it effects curricular progress but there has been no work looking specifically at co-curricular support for NTSE and their retention and persistence.

The population of NTSE is increasing across campuses as more students take on jobs to support their education and as those in the workforce return to complete their education. It is imperative that higher educational systems understand how to serve the needs of these students better.

Although there are a range of ways in which nontraditional students (NTS) are defined, the NCES has proposed a comprehensive definition that includes enrollment criteria, financial and family status, and high school graduation status. Overall, the seven characteristics specifically associated with NTS are: (1) Delayed enrollment by a year or more after high school, (2) attended part-time, (3) having dependents, (4) being a single parent, (5) working full time while enrolled, (6) being financially independent from parents, and (7) did not receive a standard high school diploma. We ground our research in the Model of Co-Curricular Support (MCCS) which suggests it is the role of the institution to provide the necessary support for integration. If students are aware and have access to resources, which lead to their success, then they will integrate into the university environment at higher rates than those students who are not aware and have access to those resources. This research study focuses on answering one research question: How do NTSE engage with co-curricular supports as they progress through their degree programs? To answer this question, we recruited 11 NTSE with a range of nontraditional characteristics to complete prompted reflective journaling assignments five times throughout the Fall 2021 semester. Qualitative results showcase the nuanced lives of NTSE as they pursue their engineering degrees. In particular, results indicate students interact with faculty, classmates, and friends/peers the most, and only interact with advising when required. Students rarely reach out to larger student support for help or are involved with campus or other events happening. Classmate and friend/peer interactions are the most positive, while interactions with faculty had the largest negative outcomes.

Brozina, C., & Johri, A. (2022, August), Using Prompted Reflective Journaling to Understand Nontraditional Students in Engineering Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN. 10.18260/1-2--41077

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