This work-in-progress investigates the impact of a novel course on engineering thriving on twelve undergraduate engineering students’ own thriving attitudes. More specifically, we investigate their non-cognitive competencies (including mindfulness, gratitude, identity, and sense of meaning) relevant to student success and psychological well-being. Research findings from positive psychology and related fields suggest that improving students’ abilities to thrive improves their academic performance, retention, engagement, and satisfaction. Despite the increasing interest in non-cognitive factors relevant to engineering student thriving, intervention studies of this kind on undergraduate engineering populations are currently lacking. As a first step towards addressing this, we developed a one-credit course for undergraduate engineering students based on research from positive psychology and related fields. This research-based class served the purpose of introducing the concept and language of thriving to undergraduate engineering students to allow them to articulate their own reflections of thriving in the engineering context. We evaluated the impact of this course as an intervention to support engineering students’ non-cognitive competencies.
Using a qualitative analysis of course documents and survey data, we seek to understand whether providing undergraduate engineering students knowledge and language about thriving affects their own non-cognitive profiles, and further, whether those changes continue to endure six months after completing the course. We examined changes in students’ pretest (n = 12), posttest (n = 12), and six-month follow-up (n = 5) scores using a survey that examines the impact of various non-cognitive factors relevant to engineering student success (NSF #redacted). To better understand the observed changes, we also reviewed students’ written course reflections, written feedback, and notes from class discussions.
Together, our findings indicate that engineering students’ non-cognitive competencies are malleable over time, can be taught and learned, and individual non-cognitive competencies should not be researched in isolation. Preliminary findings from survey data showed that the distinct non-cognitive variables we measured changed in similar patterns over time. Preliminary findings from ENGR 396 course documents suggest that distinct non-cognitive competencies are interconnected and function synergistically to impact students. Overall, this study serves as a first step in advancing our knowledge of thriving in the context of undergraduate engineering students. We conclude with a broader discussion of the importance and implications of focusing on positive strengths of undergraduate engineering students, presenting an opportunity to enhance the ways we attract, retain, educate, and graduate engineering students.
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