This complete evidence-based practice paper explores the longitudinal impact of a first-year engineering course designed to help students discern their future engineering major. As selecting an engineering major has been referred to as an “uninformed choice” by Seymour and Hewitt’s seminal work Talking about Leaving, the purpose of this study was to assess an engineering educational program’s effectiveness in helping students to make an informed selection of an engineering major. For the current study, “effectiveness” is relative and based on measures of student persistence and major changes after five semesters. The institution studied is a medium-sized Midwestern, urban public institution in which four cohort years were tracked. Two cohorts (2012 and 2013) took a 1 credit hour large lecture (200+ students) course to learn about the engineering majors offered and is contrasted with two cohorts (2014 and 2015) who took a small section (20-25 students) course to initially learn about each engineering discipline and were then given the opportunity to select / tailor the other class sessions towards the discipline of greatest interest. So after first-year students had an opportunity to participate in the five hands-on sessions representing each of the five degree programs offered at the institution, students participated in a sessions focused on the degree program the student was most interested in for the remaining sessions: program faculty discussion of requirements for that major, a panel of upper division students for the engineering major of interest, an engineering program lab tour (in the university), and an engineering facility tour (in the community). The methods used in this study involve analysis of institutional records for current major, number of major changes, and gender (as a covariate) over five semesters. The hypothesis was that if the second model (which opportunities are offered in the first-year of engineering to learn about all the engineering disciplines followed by further engagement opportunities with a program of interest) will drive informed decision making into the first-year of engineering and increase retention within engineering and the STEM College. And subsequently the number of major changes after the first year would be reduced effectively helping to reduce the time to graduation. Initial results show that the second approach (with active learning, small sections, and student choice) reduced the number of major changes after the first year and increased the persistence of students in engineering and in the STEM College as a whole. Conclusions and recommendations for other programs with a common first-year of engineering programs will be discussed in the draft paper.
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