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Why Engineering? Students' Reasons for Choosing an Engineering Major

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Student Division Diversity and Persistence Related Technical Session

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Paper Authors


Jackson Kai Painter University of Louisville

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Jackson Kai Painter is a doctoral student in the Counselor Education and Supervision program at the University of Louisville. He earned his M.Ed. at the University of Louisville in Counseling Psychology and his B.A. in Psychology an Hanover College. His research interests include academic success and psychological factors influencing these successes.

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Kate E. Snyder University of Louisville

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Kate E. Snyder is an assistant professor in the Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology, Counseling, and College Student Personnel at the University of Louisville. Her research interests include understanding the role of achievement motivation in the development of academic underachievement, particularly among gifted students.

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Patricia A. Ralston University of Louisville

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Dr. Patricia A. S. Ralston is Professor and Chair of the Department of Engineering Fundamentals at the University of Louisville. She received her B.S., MEng, and PhD degrees in chemical engineering from the University of Louisville. Dr. Ralston teaches undergraduate engineering mathematics and is currently involved in educational research on the effective use of technology in engineering education, the incorporation of critical thinking in undergraduate engineering education, and retention of engineering students. She leads a research group whose goal is to foster active interdisciplinary research which investigates learning and motivation and whose findings will inform the development of evidence-based interventions to promote retention and student success in engineering. Her fields of technical expertise include process modeling, simulation, and process control.

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Engineers play a vital role in our past, present, and future. As future engineers enroll in universities every year, it is of importance to understand why they select engineering and to build of those reasons to promote the engineering profession. In the current study, we focused on understanding why first year students selected engineering as their major, rather than focusing simply on all first-year students. We designed the current study to qualitatively examine students’ self-reported reasons for choosing an engineering major. Data were drawn from a larger study on first year engineering students at a large, Midwestern university. In 2013, 612 students (89% response rate) completed a survey about their beliefs and attitudes regarding engineering during their first week of the fall semester; of those students, 72% (n = 436) were first time, full-time freshmen. Data for qualitative analysis were taken from one question (“What influenced your decision to study engineering?”). Of the 436 students who completed the survey, 390 students provided open-ended responses that were coded using constant comparative methods. The top three reasons for selecting an engineering major included expressing an interest in the subject matter (n = 104, 26.7%), being influenced by family (n=77, 19.7%), and prior experience (e.g., engineering program, etc.) (n = 68, 17.4%). Overall, these findings provide insight into engineering students’ self-reported reasons for choosing engineering. This information allows engineering faculty to target these areas for recruiting future engineering students. This information could also guide the trajectory in which the students and faculty decide on for the success of the student, department, university, and the field.

Painter, J. K., & Snyder, K. E., & Ralston, P. A. (2017, June), Why Engineering? Students' Reasons for Choosing an Engineering Major Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--29126

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