The number of students enrolling in engineering has declined steadily over the last fifteen years, and the number of engineers joining certain fields in engineering has decreased even more drastically. A number of studies have demonstrated a strong relationship between students’ interests and abilities and their persistence in engineering. It is therefore logical to assume that students who choose a major which makes the best use of their skills and engages their interest, are more likely to not only stay, but also thrive in the field of engineering which they choose. Students who make a poor choice, because of incomplete information or misconceptions about various disciplines, often find themselves frustrated and sometimes leave engineering altogether.
A number of colleges offer first-year programs with the explicit intention of helping students make informed choices by introducing them to the various engineering disciplines before they are required to select one. The success of these programs depends on a better understanding of the processes and events that influence how students make decisions about their engineering major. The purpose of this study, conducted in a first year program, is to gain an understanding of the factors involved as students make choices about their careers in engineering. The study, conducted over a three year period, involved surveys, interviews, and narratives. This paper reports on a portion of the findings of that study. Initial results indicate that the reasons students choose to pursue a particular engineering discipline are very field specific.
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