This Work in Progress paper will describe the development of our project on the investigation of factors first-year engineering students consider most salient during their engineering discipline major selection process. A significant portion of prior research in major selection has regarded engineering as one field, not considering the diverse skills and opportunities of the many engineering disciplines. In addition to the differences of the engineering disciplines, many students have different perspectives of the disciplines that may lead students to form incorrect beliefs about the fields they are entering, later leading to attrition.
Understanding what engineering students consider most important when deciding on their specific discipline of study would allow advisors to help students make better informed decisions as well as suggest or provide opportunities for students to explore their options within engineering. Students leave engineering for many reasons, including the lack of a strong engineering identity, high personal costs, as well as lack of interest. If students are making better informed decisions, using information about the actual skills and opportunities of a discipline, instead of just the perceived, the rate of attrition would likely decline.
In order to explore the factors first-year engineering students consider most salient during their engineering discipline major selection process, we have created a survey using Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT) as our framework. SCCT strives to explain the interdependent relationship of people and their environment as it pertains to their career development by relating interests, choices, and performances. The theory seeks to understand how individuals exercise agency in their development as well as the instigating and mitigating factors that contribute to it.
The survey asks participants items about multiple self-efficacies, professional expectations, lifestyle expectations, goals, students’ current and previous academic majors, and requests demographic data including current and previous involvement in engineering related classes, jobs, and extra-curricular activities. The study population includes students enrolled in a selection of first-year engineering courses at a large, public, R1 university in the southeastern United States.
We expect the results of this study will improve academic advising by allowing instructors and professional advisors to present detailed information pertinent to the most salient factors students identify to better and fully inform student understanding of various engineering disciplines, especially for factors other than self-efficacy. For students who consider self-efficacy most salient, faculty will be able to provide opportunities for students to have direct or vicarious experience in the relevant discipline to challenge their self-efficacy beliefs and validate their decisions. Finally, for students undecided on a particular engineering discipline, advisors would be able to help students identify what factors they hold most salient and then advise how those factors align with the different engineering disciplines.
This Work in Progress paper will focus on reviewing the literature in regards to major selection in engineering. We will then present an initial analysis of pilot data to confirm the reliability of the SCCT-framed survey in the first-year engineering population. We will end with a discussion of next steps for this project including full deployment of the survey to the first-year engineering population.
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