Keywords

student retention, systems thinking, student perspectives

Abstract

Student retention and success is a complex issue, with many factors that impact an individual student’s retention and these factors varying across all of our students. At the University of Southern Indiana (USI), efforts within engineering, as well as across the college and university, have included intentional academic support services (such as expanded advising and tutoring services) and student development programs and extracurricular activities to foster student communities and a student’s sense of belonging. In addition, evidence indicates that implementing curricular changes across an engineering program and within specific courses, such as implementing active learning, instructional innovations, and high-impact practices, can improve student success and retention.

This paper describes a systems thinking approach to gain better understanding of student retention and success from multiple perspectives. Through systems thinking, connections and interdependencies between elements related to the goal of improving student retention and success in engineering can be explored. Framing student retention in this connected and big picture perspective can help identify impacting factors that then inform potential solutions. The process involved engineering students, faculty, and staff in developing systems maps around the question “what impacts your (or students’) success in engineering?” Systems mapping was used to collaboratively generate graphical representations of the many factors and actions that impact student retention and success and how they are connected through feedback loops and interdependencies. Systems mapping also creates opportunities for reflection of beliefs and assumptions around academic success and retention, interaction with other perspectives, and conversations. Students enrolled in Electric Circuits and Senior Design, which both are required undergraduate engineering courses, and engineering faculty and staff were invited to participate in the systems mapping activities. This paper discusses the results of the systems maps generated, with analysis of the overall set and comparison of the student- and faculty-developed systems maps.

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Student success and retention from the perspectives of engineering students and faculty

Student retention and success is a complex issue, with many factors that impact an individual student’s retention and these factors varying across all of our students. At the University of Southern Indiana (USI), efforts within engineering, as well as across the college and university, have included intentional academic support services (such as expanded advising and tutoring services) and student development programs and extracurricular activities to foster student communities and a student’s sense of belonging. In addition, evidence indicates that implementing curricular changes across an engineering program and within specific courses, such as implementing active learning, instructional innovations, and high-impact practices, can improve student success and retention.

This paper describes a systems thinking approach to gain better understanding of student retention and success from multiple perspectives. Through systems thinking, connections and interdependencies between elements related to the goal of improving student retention and success in engineering can be explored. Framing student retention in this connected and big picture perspective can help identify impacting factors that then inform potential solutions. The process involved engineering students, faculty, and staff in developing systems maps around the question “what impacts your (or students’) success in engineering?” Systems mapping was used to collaboratively generate graphical representations of the many factors and actions that impact student retention and success and how they are connected through feedback loops and interdependencies. Systems mapping also creates opportunities for reflection of beliefs and assumptions around academic success and retention, interaction with other perspectives, and conversations. Students enrolled in Electric Circuits and Senior Design, which both are required undergraduate engineering courses, and engineering faculty and staff were invited to participate in the systems mapping activities. This paper discusses the results of the systems maps generated, with analysis of the overall set and comparison of the student- and faculty-developed systems maps.