This work in progress paper describes the initial results of a multiyear project to study the development of an engineering identity by students in a chemical engineering program. The project focuses on how engineering identity may be impacted by a series of interventions integrating subject material from a senior-level capstone design course into the coursework of a first-year introductory engineering course and, in a later phase of the project, incorporating interventions in a second-year course. The interventions position the senior capstone design students as peer-mentors to the first-year students. Through series of timed interventions scheduled to take place in the first-year course and as the work progresses, the second-year course, we hope to ascertain the following: (1) the extent to which, relative to a control group, exposure to a peer mentor increases a students’ engineering identity development over time compared to those who do not receive peer mentoring and (2) if the quantity and/or timing of the peer interactions impact engineering identity development. It may ultimately be possible to correlate the early development of a stronger engineering identity with student retention and persistence in the major.
Early in the fall semester, freshman chemical engineering students enrolled in an introductory chemical engineering course and senior students in a capstone design course were administered a survey that contained a validated instrument, developed by Allison Godwin, to assess engineering identity. The first-year course has 107 students and the senior-level course has 92 students. Mid-semester, immediately after the first-year students were introduced to the concepts of process flow diagrams and material balances, senior design student teams gave presentations about their capstone design projects in the first-year course. The presentations focused on the project goals, design process and highlighted the process flow diagrams. After the presentations, freshman and senior students attended small group dinners as part of a homework assignment wherein the senior students were directed to communicate information about their design projects as well as share their experiences in the chemical engineering program. Dinners occurred over several days, with up to ten freshmen and five seniors attending each event. Freshman students were encouraged to use this time to discover more about the major, inquire about future course work, and learn about ways to enrich their educational experience through extracurricular and co-curricular activities. Several weeks after the dinner experience, senior students returned to give additional presentations to the freshman students to focus on the environmental and societal impacts of their design projects. The engineering identity instrument measures students’ subject-related role identity and focuses on students’ interest, competence, and recognition within engineering. The intervention targets these outcomes in three important ways. First, the senior students share their design projects with the freshman and discuss the application of concepts in design. These discussions are intended to increase students’ interest and understanding of engineering and the curriculum. Second, the freshman and senior students meet for dinner so that they can informally talk about what it is like to be an engineering major. This near-peer mentoring is designed to foster freshman students’ understanding of what it means to be an engineering major and what they can expect from their curriculum and career opportunities.
This longitudinal intervention study has three unique features. First, baseline measures were taken for the engineering identity of first-year, second-year, and senior students prior to the intervention. Second, there will be two comparative groups that do not receive the intervention. Third, the students’ exposure to the intervention will vary based on the sequence of courses. This will allow us to measure a “dose” response. Follow-up surveys will be administered to students at the conclusion of the first-year, second-year and senior courses to track the development of an engineering identity and determine if engineering identity was impacted by the interventions.
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