2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC.

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Interest, especially in the United States, is an important motivation for students in choosing a major and the strength of their commitment to remaining in that major. In the examination of engineering students’ reasons for persistence and success, interest has not received an in-depth treatment. Interest as a motivational factor can be characterized and operationalized in several ways. Engineering is often typified as a discipline that primarily deals with the creation and manipulation of man-made artefacts as opposed to a discipline centered on interpersonal interaction. For this study interest has been characterized along the Person-Thing dimension.This has been operationalized as a differential orientation to persons, distinguished by an interest in interpersonal interactions, and an orientation to things, distinguished by a desire for mastery over objects.The participants in this study are entering their fourth, and for many their final year of college.This study is a follow up to a study conducted when the participants were first-year engineering students. The initial study questioned students on their differential orientation to persons or things and about their intention to remain in engineering. That study found that engineering students tend to be higher in thing orientation than person orientation, and those students expressing a stronger orientation towards things showed more interest in continuing engineering beyond the first year, while students expressing a weaker orientation towards things more commonly expressed a desire to leave engineering. These findings were even stronger when only female students were considered.The follow up study, to be reported in this paper, explores the stability of these person-thing traits across this group of students to determine whether it is a stable part of their disposition, or whether it has changed over the course of their college education. The study also examines the success of the person-thing orientation measure in predicting students’ persistence and success in engineering. This research uses a survey administered electronically to students who were in that class of first-year engineers. Data collection is ongoing and is expected to be completed within the next two months. Approximately 500 students are expected to participate in the study. The survey questions students about whether they have since left engineering, or have remained in engineering and intend to graduate with an engineering degree. The survey also questions students as to their plans after completing college, their performance in their major, and measures their current orientation to persons and things.The survey is expected to yield profiles of students’ differential orientation to persons and things.Multivariate analysis of variance will be used to analyze the data and determine whether students’ orientations are stable or whether they changed as a result of their college experience.The predictive power of person-thing orientation to ascertain students’ persistence and success in engineering will also be determined.


2011, ASEE

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