Complete Research: Typically, university engineering study is categorized into specialty areas, e.g. civil, chemical, computer, electrical, mechanical, etc. Engineering students are asked to select a major in one of the engineering specialty areas upon matriculation or soon thereafter. Previous research has shown that significant factors influencing choice of major for college students include (i) general interest subject; (ii) family and peer influence; (iii) assumptions about introductory courses, (iv) potential job characteristics, and (v) characteristics of the major. It is also known that stronger student identity is correlated to persistence. Identity can be strengthened by a program’s demonstrated relevance to student interests and motivations.
The authors teach an introductory course in electrical and computer engineering that directly addresses several of major choice factors listed above, namely (i), (iii) and (v). While the students in the course have predominantly already selected computer engineering or electrical engineering as their field of study, there are a number of students enrolled in the first-year course who are exploring the fields of computer and electrical engineering in their search for a major. The authors collected data on the student technology interests from 866 students over a nine-year period. Students self-selected a technology or contemporary issue about which they had to give a short presentation to the class. Student interests were categorized into twelve broad categories, and linguistic analysis done to identify the most commonly used nouns. Electrical engineering majors are more likely to choose energy technologies, while computer engineers a clear preference computing technology and devices. Both genders demonstrated approximately equal interests in medical and energy topics. Men were more likely to have interests in computing, fundamental advances in electronic devices, and space. Women expressed more interests in robotics and solutions for home, society, and safety.
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