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WIP: Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on a First-Year Engineering Cohort Ranging From Learning Methods, Personal Decisions and University Experience

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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


Monica B. Setien North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University

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Monica Setien-Grafals is a postdoctoral fellow at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University under the Revolutionizing engineering and computer science departments (RED) NSF grant. Her research interests include student learning, flipped classroom, engineering design, neural engineering and optogenetics. She received her BS in BME from Syracuse University and her Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from Michigan State University in biomaterial and genetic tools to improve the tissue-electrode interface.

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Tobin N. Walton North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University

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My research is focused on developing interdisciplinary theoretical frameworks and methodological designs capable of modeling the social and psychological drivers of behavior, decision-making, and information processing across multiple domains (e.g., STEM
education, food security, the environment).

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Matthew B. A. McCullough North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University

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Dr. McCullough is an professor in the Department of Chemical, Biological, and Bioengineering, and is the B.S. Bioengineering program director. He has his B.S. in Industrial Engineering from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and his Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Iowa. His research involves musculoskeletal biomechanics with a focus on computational methods. He is also deeply interested in engineering education and especially creating opportunities for underrepresented minorities and women in the field.

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Stephen B. Knisley North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University

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Stephen B Knisley completed the BE degree in biomedical engineering at Duke University and the PhD degree in biomedical engineering and mathematics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is currently the chair of the Department of Chemical, Biological and Bioengineering at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.

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Motivation: The motivation of this Work in Progress paper is to gain an understanding of how first-year engineering students are feeling and getting acclimated in response to their education, personal matters, and the response of their university due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Our aim is to shed light on the multifaceted impact of COVID-19 on freshmen engineering students.

Background: The outbreak of COVID-19 triggered an unprecedented adjustment response in higher education. Universities and colleges had to quickly shift to an online environment for most, if not for the entirety their courses. This experience has impacted students and brought uncertainties and questions about their future as professionals. Recent studies show that higher education institutions are facing declining enrollment, mainly freshman enrollment, and increased costs of operation. The added health risk caused by the pandemic further stresses the effects that declined enrollment is placing on higher education. Additionally, students are facing their own set of difficulties including financial hardship and overall mental health and declined wellbeing. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic effects will likely extend through multiple semesters. Thus, due to the unexpected circumstances it is crucial to explore students’ outlooks on the topic. Specifically, this Work in Progress paper will describe how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted first-year undergraduate engineering students of an array of different majors at an HBCU on multiple aspects of their lives.

Methods: An initial online survey has been sent to 383 students among eight different sections of a first-year engineering course that is 100% remote learning in the Fall 2020 semester. The online questionnaire has a total of 20 COVID-related questions, from which 18 are on a Likert scale, one is a yes or no question, and one is open-ended. The questionnaire asks freshmen engineering students if anyone close to them has been diagnosed with COVID, how they feel towards their living arrangements, ability to focus, relationships, learning environment, future plans, and overall well-being regarding the pandemic situation. Additionally, we are interested in assessing their perspectives on how the university has responded to the pandemic related to course instruction, advising, campus activities, housing, social distancing and other safety measures. The results of the survey will be reported. Multivariate regression and trend analyses will be conducted to compare answers among students with different engineering major, gender, household income, living arrangements and employment status.

Anticipated results: The findings of this study will highlight how students are feeling in terms of the pandemic and their education. Particularly, we are interested in revealing if students are satisfied with the shift in educational and the university, and any concerns that they might have about their education and future. This will allow members of the university to better understand how to engage with similar situations in the future, but most importantly, we can help implement changes that are needed for future semesters and develop tactics for additional help. Additionally, results will inform policy makers where long-term decisions that can aid in student success need to take place. Currently, all students are facing challenges and have been expected to shift quickly to online courses that were previously delivered in-person. Strategies must be constructed to improve distance/alternative learning to ensure student engagement in education while adequately preparing engineers of the future with the necessary skills for employability and success.

Setien, M. B., & Walton, T. N., & McCullough, M. B. A., & Knisley, S. B. (2021, July), WIP: Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on a First-Year Engineering Cohort Ranging From Learning Methods, Personal Decisions and University Experience Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--38088

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