Date of Award

December 2021

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Engineering and Science Education

Committee Member

Marisa K. Orr

Committee Member

Lisa C. Benson

Committee Member

Karen High

Committee Member

Rachel McCord Ellestad

Abstract

The selection of a specific engineering major can substantially impact a student’s undergraduate experience and can also impact future career opportunities. This work is divided into complementary studies of Enrollment, Perception, and Exploration. Together, the three studies seek to answer six research questions related to (i) when and where students enroll in their graduation majors in different matriculation models, (ii) how students perceive both engineering in general and the engineering majors, and (iii) the impacts of a major exploration course on confidence in major choice, major changes, and fit and satisfaction in engineering in general and in the engineering majors.

Primarily using the Attraction-Selection-Attrition Framework and the Student Integration Model, the Study of Enrollment investigates time to enrollment in graduation major and persistence using institutional records from multiple institutions. The results of this study indicate different patterns in enrollment in graduation major based on the institutions’ matriculation model. Generally, students at direct matriculation institutions enroll in their graduation major more quickly, but those students have more major changes than students at institutions with first-year engineering programs.

Using a framework of Social Cognitive Career Theory and Expectancy-Value Theory, the Study of Perception uses free-response survey questions from a major exploration course to investigate changes in students’ perceptions of engineering in general and in the engineering majors. The results of this study show that students’ perceptions of engineering in general and their intended engineering majors are expanded during an optional major exploration course. Responses often become more specific at the end of the course compared to the beginning.

Framed with the Attraction-Selection-Attrition Framework and the Student Integration Model, the Study of Exploration uses propensity score matching to create two matched groups to investigate the effects of a major exploration course on first-year engineering students’ confidence in major choice, major changes, and fit and satisfaction in engineering. The results of this study show significant differences in the frequency of major changes among students who enrolled in the major exploration course compared with those that do not. Other metrics, while not significant, have differences that are favorable for the major exploration course that highlight its value for helping students make a more informed major choice.

The results of this work provide evidence that students are willing to change their engineering majors after matriculation. Students likely make changes to improve academic and social fit and integration and because of changes in perceptions of the engineering majors during their first year. Some changes in perception are likely the result of dedicated major exploration courses which also has a positive (but not statistically significant) impact on confidence in major selection as well as fit and satisfaction in engineering majors.

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