First year engineering (FYE) programs are gaining popularity across universities in the United States. In addition to providing general engineering knowledge and skills to undergraduate freshmen, FYE programs also provide students with diverse opportunities to help them select the engineering discipline they will further pursue. The 2014 cohort of the FYE program of a large Midwestern university was the sample used for a two-phased study. The aim of the study was to understand how students make informed decisions of which engineering major to pursue and to help FYE administration to improve the resources they provide students. The first phase of the study focused on understanding the sources of information students used to make their decision. A preliminary analysis of student surveys indicated that the most important activity they are performing to select a major is “Self-Led Exploration” (SLE) of engineering disciplines.
This paper focuses on the second part of the study, which aims to qualitatively answer the research question: How do students’ value beliefs influence their decision of which engineering major to pursue? Answers to open ended questions from FYE surveys also served to inform this second study. Moreover, a brief examination of both the interviews and the surveys suggested a possible overlapping between the sources students used to inform their decision and the reasons why they selected a particular major. From that overlap, a secondary research question emerged: What is the relation between students’ value beliefs of the engineering disciplines and the type of sources they use to inform their decision of a major? To analyze our transcripts we used Eccle’s expectancy-value theory. We hypothesize that students’ value beliefs, how well a task aligns with their personal values, goals, and needs, influences their career choice and the type of resources they use to inform themselves.
First-year engineering, value beliefs, decision of a major, self-led exploration
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