2019 FYEE Conference

Helping Undeclared Engineering Students Find Their Best-Fit Major

Presented at M3C: Mentoring into the profession

Factors relating to the potential for First-Year Engineering student success have been well considered, and continue to be evaluated. Areas of study include: self-efficacy, persistence, confidence, math and science readiness, resources available, a sense of belonging at the University, and “best-fit major” for retention purposes. For many students, these factors are intensified by the uncertainty in choosing a major. It is not uncommon for an incoming student to have selected “engineering” as a career goal without understanding the specific disciplines within the field. Therefore, choosing the right major may lead to student success (and improved retention).

During the fall of 2018, a total of 738 students entered Drexel University’s College of Engineering. This population included all new freshmen plus transfer students. Of the total, 175 students (23.7%) were Undeclared in their engineering major. All of the 738 students were required to enroll in a section of UNIV E101 “The Drexel Experience”. This first-year course is designed to help students acclimate to life at the University, and topics such as time management, course registration, and campus resources are covered. A total of 31 sections were offered and were designated by special populations (Engineering Learning Community, Peer Mentor, transfer, specific major, and Undeclared). Typical classroom sizes were no more than 30 students for all populations, with the exception of the Undeclared sections, whose classrooms contained no more than 18 students. This was the first academic year that the Undeclared students were separated into their own cohort. The intent of this action of separation was to provide those Undecided students with specialized attention and resources to assist them in the selection of their major. Since Drexel has a co-op training component built into its curriculum, it is important for undecided students to choose their major before the start of the third quarter of the academic year so they can stay “on-cycle”.

The course was taught by Undergraduate Advisors, and was focused weekly on exposure of the students to the various engineering disciplines. This was accomplished through: in-class exercises, lectures, guest lectures, and external exercises and written reflection papers. A description of those efforts (as well as student survey results) is described within the body of this paper. A focus group of UNIV E101 Advisors met bi-weekly to reflect on course assignments, lesson plans, and policies, and to tailor the material to meet the needs of each section. The course was also complemented by a first year Introduction to Engineering Design and Data Analysis course (ENGR 111) in which the Undeclared students worked in groups having students with declared majors. Additionally, the course material presented in ENGR 111 was multi-disciplinary therefore providing undeclared students with exposure to all disciplines offered by the College of Engineering. The efforts of the separation of (and specialized attention to) Undeclared students this year in UNIV E101 appeared to yield positive results – with student survey responses chiefly attributing their subsequent choice of major to the weekly faculty and advisor visits throughout the term.

  1. Mrs. Rosie Sullivan Drexel University [biography]
  2. Ms. Dionne Gordon-Starks College of Engineering, Drexel University [biography]
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