The has sought to increase engineering graduation rates from a five-year average of 42%, to 65% by increasing the 1st to 2nd year retention from 68% to 85%. Each year the efforts have included all of the roughly 140 “First time in college” (FTIC) students in University’s Engineering and Engineering Technology programs. An internal study and best-practices literature review prompted several initiatives beginning in 2010:
1) implementing peer, faculty, and industrial mentoring for first-year students;
2) implementing an engineering “freshman experience” class;
3) implementing first-year engineering practice classes including professional topics and open-ended experimentation and design projects.
First-year Interest Groups (FIGs) of 8-10 similar-major students have been paired with peer mentors, faculty mentors, and in some cases, industrial mentors. These groups have synergized with existing university support structures, and have been the catalysts for several aspects of our program being adopted university-wide. Surveys over the years have indicated that both mentors and the students are largely positive about FIG group mentoring.
We built upon existing infrastructure to create an engineering flavor of the university’s “freshman experience” in which engineering faculty mentored FIG groups in a curriculum including time management and study skills. Over the years, this format has evolved from 25-30 students in a section, to the current format of 10 students in a section taught by their faculty mentor. This more personal setting, focusing on aspects of “how to thrive in college” has produced much higher student course evaluations.
First-year students have participated in two engineering practice courses which are designed to answer the question "what do engineers do?" The first course includes interactive classroom sessions on engineering practice and experiential lab modules exposing students to various fields of engineering. The second course includes engineering design with robotics and microcontroller platforms. A Freshman Engineering Pre/Post Survey has indicated the students’ scores improve sizably related to their awareness of, and commitment to, the engineering profession.
In addition to the positive results above indicating progress on grant sub-goals, one-year retention has increased by an average of over 5% after six years of the project. Also, the six-year graduation rate has increased by nearly 10%.
This executive summary, and associated poster, will provide details of the retention initiatives employed, and will present qualitative and quantitative assessment results of the project, with the intention of contributing our experiences and findings to the continuing dialogue on retention initiatives. This project has been supported by an NSF-STEP grant.
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