This complete evidence-based practice paper will share results and lessons learned from the past twelve years of a bridge camp for first year students at XXU. The EXX. Engineering Bridge Camp (E2) began in 2007 with support from a National Science Foundation STEP grant. The main goal of E2 was to increase engineering student retention, especially in the first three semesters, by giving participants experience with the engineering design process, connecting students to campus resources and faculty/staff, and helping students form a cohort of peers.
XXU is a land-, sea-, and space-grant university with about 25,000 undergraduate students, over 5,000 of which have declared majors in the College of Engineering. At the onset of the first E2 camp, the college’s six-year graduate rate was 15% lower than the university as a whole, with a 30% drop in retention occurring between the first and second year. E2 was one of several initiatives implemented as part of the STEP project targeting first year students with the goal of increasing engineering student persistence to rates closer to those of the university.
Forty-five freshmen participated in the first E2 camp, and five upperclassmen were hired to serve as mentors. In the last few years, this camp averaged 200-300 participants with 75-90 mentors. Participants are self-selected and are placed in teams of 4-5 based on several criteria: major, math course placement, hometown, etc. During the five days of camp, students participate in activities such as: team building exercises, attending math refresher courses, making their 4/5-year plan, meeting professors and learning more about the engineering disciplines, talking to industry representatives, and completing a design project that incorporates one or more fields of engineering or computer science.
The success of the mentoring aspect of camp led to the development of a peer mentor program and the creation of a new student organization (XXX). Starting in their second semester, students can apply to join the organization. All mentors are interviewed by upperclassmen and are required to attend an overnight retreat and a day-long leadership workshop. Mentors can then apply to work in one of five E2 positions–team leader, group leader, design leader, logistics leader, and program leader–based on their interests, previous experiences with the camp, and staff recommendations. These roles are hierarchical–team leaders mentor a team of 4-5 camp participants and group leaders oversee a group of teams. Design, logistics, and program leaders have even greater responsibilities in developing and presenting projects and facilitating the behind the scenes logistics of managing a large camp.
Participating in E2 camp is a significant predictor of student engineering retention in year two, and participants have a 5-10% higher retention rate in engineering than non-participants. Assessments were conducted every year, but starting in 2017 participants complete pre- and post-surveys to ask why they chose to attend the camp (and if it met their expectations), to ascertain their overall preparedness for college, and to gather information on what they liked most/least. Most participants indicated that they enrolled in E2 to meet other students (74%) and to be better prepared for their classes (80%). When asked on the post-survey if the camp delivered on these goals, 95% and 79% selected these same options. The biggest increases in positive responses regarding college preparedness were that they know at least one faculty member in the college, they have friends in the same major, and they understand the engineering design process. A second post-survey was sent several months later to see what aspects of camp were the most helpful to them as they completed their first semester. Forty-five students completed this post-survey for 2017’s camp (15% response rate); the 2018 camp post-survey will be administered soon. 87% of these students reported to have stayed in touch with their teammates, 44% continued to contact their team leader, 23% changed their major (many did so because of what they learned during E2), and 67% indicated that the math sessions helped to prepare them for their first math course. Mentors also complete a post-survey and participate in focus groups and brainstorming sessions to assist with the planning for the following year’s camp.
Some of the lessons learned from this well-established camp include: the importance of a dedicated staff member and administrative support; involving students in all aspects of the planning and implementation of the camp to build ownership; the importance of leadership training and team building exercises for student mentors; and using data collected from program evaluations to improve the camp each year.
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