2015 ASEE Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington.

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This study explores the sources of information that first year engineering students use to decide which engineering major to pursue for their undergraduate studies. The purposes of this study are twofold: (1) to understand how students make an informed decision of which engineering major to pursue and (2) to help the First Year Engineering (FYE) program administration improve the informational resources they provide the students. This study was framed within the FYE population of a large Midwestern university and was commissioned by the FYE program.

FYE administration conducts regular student surveys for feedback and improvement purposes. We analyzed different survey data collected over a period of one year and found out that students identified “Self-Led Exploration of Engineering Disciplines” (SLE) as the single most important source of information in selecting a major. SLE is a broad, ill-defined term, which students may interpret differently. Hence, we developed a qualitative study to investigate how students perform SLE. We conducted individual interviews with 12 students enrolled in the FYE Program. These students were selected so that they were representative of the entire student population in terms of gender. The qualitative findings of this study reinforce that the students are basing their decision of a major using SLE. These findings also helped us unpack the meaning of SLE, and we further came up with 6 different types of SLE. Finally, our findings also indicated that direct interaction with people was highly valued by the students while selecting a major.


First-year engineering, first-year students, self-led exploration, engineering major, deciding a major.

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