©2015 American Society for Engineering Education. ASEE Annual Conference Proceedings, 2015, Seattle, Washington.


Mathematics as a Gatekeeper to Engineering: Preliminary Findings from the Interview DataResearch suggests that students’ pre-college experience may support or hinder future success inengineering. The experiences that students have had with engineering may shape their perceptionof engineering curriculum at the college level. It may also cause cognitive and learningdissonance, when the ways that a student engaged with engineering activities at the pre-collegelevel do not align with the student’s experiences in the engineering classroom. At a largeMidwestern University with a unique first-year engineering program, first-year engineering andsenior mathematics, engineering, and design students were invited to participate in an openended design task. After completing the task, they were interviewed about how they solved thestudy design task as well as about their perceptions of their mathematical and design abilities.Finally, the students provided insight into their previous experiences with engineering.This paper will present findings and discussion based upon the students’ responses in the follow-up interview. Some emergent themes in the student’s responses are: 1) pre-college engineeringexperiences are structurally different than college engineering experiences, 2) students fail torecognize the diverse types of mathematical knowledge they are applying to solve the design taskand 3) pre-college engineering is more hands-on than college engineering coursework. Weanticipate that this work will give instructors insight in to the perceptions and experiences thatstudents have when they enter the engineering classroom as freshmen and how those ideas maychange over time as they work towards completing their degree. This work may also contributeto on-going discussions about how students understand the relationship between engineering,design and mathematical thinking as they are solving everyday engineering problems.


Engineering education, mathematics, gatekeepers

Date of this Version


Custom Citation

Tolbert, D., & Cardella, M. E. (2015, June), Mathematics as a Gatekeeper to Engineering: Preliminary Findings from the Interview Data Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24472