Previous literature shows that first year engineering students face challenges transitioning from high school to college due to higher academic expectations. In addition to the registration process, financial aid application and tuition requirements, there are other aspects of college admission that add to the challenges for students. For engineering students, the academic challenges arise due to lack of technical and problem-solving skills that are required for higher level mathematics, science and introductory engineering coursework. Many higher education institutions have developed their first-year engineering curriculum with a broad perspective that welcomes students and allow them to explore options for choosing their majors. Even though the first-year curriculum is fundamental, students seem to find the coursework difficult and overwhelming especially during the first semester. In order to help students in overcoming these academic challenges, several learning pedagogies have been developed by instructors and implemented in the classrooms. Many of these studies focus on strategies to improve student performance in a classroom. The assessment of the student performance in most of these studies is limited to the overall student grade. This research study presents peer mentoring strategy that helps students succeed in an introductory engineering course. The research objectives in this study are: 1) to illustrate how peer mentoring helps improve the student performance and 2) to explore the correlation between student participation in peer mentoring sessions and the overall grade of the student which serves as a factor to determine student’s success in a classroom.
First year engineering curriculum includes two semester course sequence: Fundamentals of Engineering I (offered in the first semester) and Fundamentals of Engineering II (offered in the second semester). Data is presented from the first semester course offered at the regional campus of a large, research institution. Fundamentals of Engineering I course include the following sections as three main components of the coursework. a) Introduction to data analysis tool such as Microsoft Excel, b) Computer programming in MATLAB, and c) Design project. Teamwork and collaboration are heavily weighted for the assessment of student performance in the course. The peer mentoring strategy presented in this study is unique in terms of scheduling flexibility, accessibility of resources and support from academic success center on campus to help sustain the mentoring program.
Preliminary research findings indicate that students benefit from the interactions with mentors and learn from the shared experiences. Being mentored from a peer has helped students develop critical thinking skills that are important to solve open-ended and real-world problems. It is also noted that students were able to advance their computer programming skills because of their interactions with peers. Analysis of the preliminary data shows that the peer mentoring sessions help students score a better grade in the weekly assignments and exams. The mentoring seemed to help improve team performance because teams are required to attend training sessions to build team working and leadership skills. Statistical analysis of the data shows that there is higher correlation between student participation and overall grade compared to students not attending the mentoring sessions. There was a subset of students who performed well irrespective of the participation in mentoring sessions and some who did not perform well. These findings will provide guidance to encourage student participation in curricular activities outside the classroom and help improve student success rate in introductory engineering courses. If these strategies prove to be successful at an introductory level, these could be adopted for advanced level courses.
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