The subject of what strategies are most effective to help students successfully make the ease of transition from high school into the first year of their engineering education has been well considered. At the core of the issue is the retention rates that universities desire in order to survive. At Drexel University, due to logistical and budgetary considerations, “first year orientation” courses were historically presented in either large lecture halls, or online. A change in this policy was implemented in the Fall quarter of 2017, whereby 783 first year engineering students were placed into classroom settings for an orientation course, University 101 (UNIV 101). Although UNIV 101 is a university-wide initiative with general requirements, the College of Engineering modified the course content to accommodate incoming engineering students. The average class size was 27 students. Topics taught in the course varied weekly and included: navigating the campus; finding available resources at the University; how to schedule classes; defining what sub-disciplines of study were available in each of the specific engineering disciplines; and interacting with Professors who came into the classroom as Guest Speakers to talk about their research or how they became professors. The courses were taught by Undergraduate Advisors (typically matching the Advisors with their Advisees in the classroom). The results of the Policy change are presented herein. As was anticipated, the students (57% responding) reported an overall positive experience, and the Advisors reported fewer required transactional meetings with the students because their general questions were answered in the classroom. As a result, those transactional meetings between students and Advisors shifted towards more conversations in alignment with the Advising Center’s developmental philosophy which is focused on behaviors and long-term planning.
Ten to fifteen deliverables were required of the students during the quarter to assure that they were retaining the information presented. Additionally, students were asked to perform an exercise in reflection at the end of the quarter to compare their actual experience in the course with their initial expectations, and to indicate what additional information they thought should be provided to the next class of incoming engineering freshmen. Student success improved after the quarter (Fall 2017) compared to the cohorts taught by the on-line method of instruction used in the two years prior (2015 and 2016) considering both Failures and Withdrawals. Peer (Student) Mentors were utilized in 5 of the 29 course sections and, as can be expected, student satisfaction scores were markedly higher in these sections. Data supporting these findings is contained within this paper, as well as a recognition of individual historically-recognized factors that lead to students’ success, and how the in-class UNIV 101 experience satisfies those factors.
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