Why Do Students Leave? An Investigation Into Why Well-Supported Students Leave a First-Year Engineering Program

Melissa Morris, Robin Hensel, Joseph Dygert
2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition Proceedings   unpublished
Curriculum and Instruction, focusing on higher education teaching of STEM fields, she also holds B.S. and M.A. degrees in Mathematics. Dr. Hensel has over seven years of experience working in engineering teams and in project management and administration as a Mathematician and Computer Systems Analyst for the U. S. Department of Energy as well as more than 25 years of experience teaching mathematics, statistics, computer science, and freshman engineering courses in higher education
more » ... Currently, she leads a team of faculty who are dedicated to providing first year engineering students with a highquality, challenging, and engaging educational experience with the necessary advising, mentoring, and academic support to facilitate their transition to university life and to prepare them for success in their engineering discipline majors and future careers. Abstract This complete research paper examines retaining traditionally underrepresented groups (URGs) in STEM fields. For the purposes of this paper underrepresented groups include women, firstgeneration students, and underrepresented minorities (URMs). The retention of URM students in STEM fields is a current area of focus for engineering education research. Following a literature review and examination of best practices in retaining the targeted group, a cohort-based, professional development program with a summer bridge component was developed at a large land grant institution in the Mid-Atlantic region with a programmatic goal to increase retention of underrepresented students in the engineering college which, ultimately, may increase diversity in the engineering workforce. The program focuses on cohort building, teamwork, mentorship, and developing an engineering identity. Students participate in a week-long summer bridge component prior to the start of their first semester. During their first year, students take a class as a cohort each semester, participate in an industrial site visit, and interact with faculty mentors. Since 2016, the Academy of Engineering Success (AcES) program has been funded by a National Science Foundation (NSF) S-STEM grant which provides scholarships to eligible program participants. Scholarships start at $4,500 during year one and are renewable for up to five years with an incremental increase of $1000 annually for years two through four. Even with the professional development program providing support and scholarships alleviating the financial burden of higher education, students still leave engineering. The 2016-2017 cohort consisted of five scholarship recipients, with three remaining in engineering in fall 2018, the beginning of their third year. The 2017-2018 cohort consisted of seven scholarship recipients, with five remaining in engineering in fall 2018, their second year. While the numbers of this scholarship group are small, their retention rate is alarmingly below the engineering college retention rate. Why? This paper presents the results of additional investigations of the overall AcES program cohorts (not only the scholarship recipients) and their non-program peers with the aim of determining predictors of retention in the targeted demographic. Student responses to three survey instruments: GRIT, MSLQ, and LAESE were analyzed to determine why students were leaving engineering, even though the program they participated in was strongly rooted in retention based literature. Student responses on program exit surveys were also analyzed to determine non-programmatic elements that may cause students to leave engineering. Results of this research are presented along with "lessons learned" and suggested actions to increase retention among the targeted population.
doi:10.18260/1-2--33559 fatcat:o2psyp2sobcl3lq6oue4ahdt6y