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What Makes a Successful Engineering Student?

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2017 Pacific Southwest Section Meeting


Tempe, Arizona

Publication Date

April 20, 2017

Start Date

April 20, 2017

End Date

April 22, 2017

Conference Session

Technical Session 4a

Tagged Topics

Diversity and Pacific Southwest Section

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Paper Authors


Ruth E. Davis Santa Clara University

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Ruth E. Davis is the Lee and Seymour Graff Professor and Associate Dean for Undergraduate Engineering at Santa Clara University. Her dissertation "Generating Correct Programs From Logic Specifications" won the 1979 ACM Doctoral Forum Award for Outstanding Ph.D. Thesis in Computer Science. Dr. Davis was named a Distinguished Scientist of the ACM in fall 2006. She has done research in formal methods in software engineering, but for the last ten to fifteen years has been more involved in several activities to increase the participation of underrepresented groups in engineering.

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At our university we have been working to improve the experience of undergraduate engineering students for a long time. We started with an NSF grant to support significant revision in the way we taught the Introduction to Engineering course, changing it from a "talking heads" tour through disciplines to an active engagement in project work that demonstrated the interdisciplinary quality of most projects, while also showing how each discipline contributed its expertise.

We went from a one-unit lecture course to a one-unit laboratory course, and then, after a few years, added another unit so we could have a one-unit lecture and a one unit lab each week. We tracked the student response to each of these changes, but in addition, we also tracked the student demographics, entering expectations, motivation for studying engineering, and expectation of success.

We have been collecting data on our students for eleven years. Now we are investigating the correlations among demographics, academic preparation, motivation, and prior exposure to engineering to success in an engineering program. We also asked about learning styles, preferences for collaboration or individual work, and confidence in their ability to complete their engineering degree. We look at four and six year graduation rates, changes of major within and outside of engineering, and grades achieved along the way.

We hope to learn the most important factors predicting success so that we can make better admission decisions as well as provide useful advice and formative experiences to students along the way.

Davis, R. E. (2017, April), What Makes a Successful Engineering Student? Paper presented at 2017 Pacific Southwest Section Meeting, Tempe, Arizona.

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