Persistence in Engineering: Does Initial Mathematics Course Matter?
Jennifer Van Dyken, Lisa Benson, Patrick Gerard
2015 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition Proceedings
Lisa Benson is an Associate Professor of Engineering and Science Education at Clemson University, with a joint appointment in Bioengineering. Her research focuses on the interactions between student motivation and their learning experiences. Her projects involve the study of student perceptions, beliefs and attitudes towards becoming engineers and scientists, and their problem solving processes. Other projects in the Benson group include effects of student-centered active learning,
... d learning, and incorporating engineering into secondary science and mathematics classrooms. Her education includes a B.S. Abstract This study is situated within a larger project that seeks to understand how students that start in precalculus and struggle in their math courses persist and complete an engineering degree program. The specific aims of this study are to determine 1) the extent to which students that start in precalculus persist in engineering after one year, 2) correlations between the grade in engineering students' first math course and/or the level of that course and persistence in engineering one year later, and 3) the relative number of students that graduated with an engineering degree who started in a non-college level (pass/fail) mathematics course. Data were collected and analyzed from academic records for all first semester engineering students at a southern land grant university, including the mathematics course for which the students were registered that semester, their grade in that course, and their major at the end of the following fall semester. The results of the analysis showed that both the level and grade in students' first college mathematics course are significant predictors of retention in engineering: students starting out in a non-college level mathematics course and those making a D, F, or withdrawing from their first mathematics course are less likely to still be in an engineering program a year later than those that begin in a calculus course or those that made a C or better in their first mathematics course. Additionally, our results showed that fewer than 12% of graduating engineers during a single semester at our institution started in a non-college level mathematics course. In contrast, nearly 40% of graduating engineering students entered the university with AP or dual enrollment credit for single variable calculus. This quantitative study of trajectories of students who start out in non-college level mathematics was conducted to identify the subject(s) for a future qualitative study of the factors that contribute to students' persistence in engineering when they encounter difficulties in their college mathematics courses.