This research addresses the global initiative to increase diversity in the engineering work force. The military Veteran student population was identified as one of the most diverse student groups in engineering; however, discontinue and dismissal rates of Veteran students in engineering are significantly higher than traditional engineering students in the United States. These Veteran students hold identifiable traits that are different than traditional engineering students who are under the age of 24 and financially dependent on their parents. While great leaps have been made in engineering student retention, most has focused on these traditional students. This research seeks to fill this gap by specifically addressing the retention of Veteran students using the concept of social responsibility. Social responsibility is generally considered to be acting to benefit society. It is a common ideal promoted in the military (e.g., service before self in the U.S. Air Force fundamental and enduring values). It is also embodied in the engineer’s creed (i.e., engineers using their professional skills to improve human welfare) and revealed by the literature as a major factor that attracts many students from historically underrepresented groups into engineering. Therefore, the objective of this research is to explore the associations between Veteran student retention, social responsibility, and demographics.
A survey instrument was developed based on a model for assessing first-year engineering student understanding of social responsibility. The survey was updated to include demographics specific to the Veteran student cohort (e.g., military branch, prior job attributes, and university transfer credits) and questions specifically linking military service and engineering. The survey was piloted, followed by a focus group to clarify survey questions; it was then revised and launched in October 2018 to all students who self-identify as Veterans and all first-year students in the college of engineering at a 4-year land grant institution. Approximately 48% of the Veteran student cohort and 52% of the first-year cohort responded to the survey. This paper will discuss the Veteran and first-year student perceptions of social responsibility in engineering based on results from the instrument. The results of this research will be used to design an intervention, likely in the first-year when most Veteran students discontinue or are dismissed, to increase Veteran retention in engineering programs.
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