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Why I Am an Engineering Major: A Cross-Sectional Study of Undergraduate Students

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Engineering Student Experiences

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.1379.1 - 24.1379.22



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Paper Authors


Louis Nadelson Boise State University

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Louis S. Nadelson is an associate professor in the College of Education at Boise State University, with a PhD in educational psychology from UNLV. His scholarly interests include all areas of STEM teaching and learning, inservice and preservice teacher professional development, program evaluation, multidisciplinary research, and conceptual change. Nadelson uses his over 20 years of high school and college math, science, and engineering teaching to frame his research on STEM teaching and learning. Nadelson brings a unique perspective of research, bridging experience with practice and theory to explore a range of interests in STEM teaching and learning.

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Dee K. Mooney Micron Foundation


Janine Rush-Byers Micron Technology Foundation, Inc.

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Janine Rush-Byers has been with the Micron Foundation since 2006 as the university relations manager. Janine works with domestic and international universities to build strategic, long term partnerships focusing on engineering programs, students and faculty members. The Foundation funds $5 million in grants annually around the world, including $2 million to universities. Janine holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of Washington and an MBA from Boise State University.

The Micron Foundation is a private, non-profit organization established by Micron Technology in 1999 to advance math, science, and engineering in its global site communities. Micron Technology is a worldwide leader in the semiconductor industry.

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Nathan Dean Boise State University

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Nathan Dean began work at Boise State University in 2013 as a research assistant to Dr. Louis Nadelson in the College of Education. He is currently pursuing his M.S. in STEM Education and expects to graduate in 2015. Before beginning graduate school Nathan taught secondary math and science and worked at the district level developing curriculum and assessment items to meet the Common Core State Standards of Mathematics. He earned his B.S. in Earth Science Education from Boise State University in 2011 with a minor in Physical Science and was a NSF Robert Noyce Scholar. Nathan’s research interests include STEM education, grading and assessment practices, self-efficacy, and student conceptions of science.

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Why I Am an Engineering Major: A Cross-Sectional Study of Undergraduate StudentsAccording to a recent report (STEM Educational Research Initiative, 2013) K-12 students tend tolike mathematics and science. Further, in a survey of desirable STEM careers the studentsselected engineering with very high frequency which was only was matched only by nursing interms of student selection as a desirable STEM career (STEM Educational Research Initiative,2013). Yet, when the K-12 students were asked if they would like to work in a career that appliesmathematics and science a minority of the students responded “yes” indicating that there is adisconnect between their career preferences, expectations, aspirations, and their understanding ofengineering as a career. These results led us to wonder what influences a student to be anengineering major.We hypothesized that students become engineering majors because they like to work onproblems and develop solutions. Similarly, we anticipated students want to be nurses becausethey like to help people (this is a separate research project that is currently under development).We posit even though engineering involves substantial application of math and science theprimary goal is to identify and work on authentic problems and develop meaningful solutionswhich overshadows that necessity to apply math and science. Further, we speculate that successin engineering requires the application of multiple other skills such as communication,collaboration, creativity, computing, etc. which are likely to dilute the thought of engineering asa career in which people focus on the application of mathematics and science. Finally, wepredicted that there would be shifts in the answers based on experience, with first yearengineering students holding different views than fourth year students.Using the report (STEM Educational Research Initiative, 2013) as a reference we developed anonline based survey which included a combination of selected and free response items. Wedistributed the survey to the undergraduate engineering students at multiple institutions in theUnited States. We began by asking the students to share why they are engineering majors in afree response question. Specifically we sought evidence to determine who influenced thestudents’ choice of engineering as a major, their motivation for pursuing engineering as a major,how much they like math and science, and how well they do at math and science. We alsosought to determine what they like or do not like about math and science. We included an itemto determine the students’ involvement in extra-curricular activities that may be aligned withengineering. In addition to the engineering major focus survey we also gathered demographicdata.Our preliminary analysis of over 800 completed surveys revealed our participants were mostinterested in being engineering to solve problems and because they like math and science, weregreatly influenced by parents to be an engineering major, had above average success withmathematics and science with an alignment with their liking for math and science. About 80percent know someone outside of school who is an engineer, and about 40 percent had engagedin out of school activities that are associated with engineering. We are continuing to collect data,with participation of students from College of Engineering in multiple locations in the UnitedStates. Our full report will include more detailed analyses of our full sample and a comparisonof responses among the different levels of students.STEM Educational Research Initiative. (2013).Idaho students’ STEM education experiences. Retrieved from: ment/STEM/Student%20Survey%20Report%20092313.ashx +

Nadelson, L., & Mooney, D. K., & Rush-Byers, J., & Dean, N. (2014, June), Why I Am an Engineering Major: A Cross-Sectional Study of Undergraduate Students Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--23312

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2014 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015