The retention of undergraduate students in engineering majors is essential to improving graduation rates and to ultimately ensuring the health and vitality of the engineering workforce. Engineering identity is a professional role identity that students typically develop during college, which is predictive of both educational and professional persistence. This study examined the relationship between participation in co-curricular activities and the development of engineering identity during the freshman year.
Three surveys were administered to freshman students at a large southwestern engineering school prior to the start of fall semester and again at the end of fall and spring semesters. Results are based on responses from 1,200 freshman engineering students. In fall semester, 24 (2.0%) students engaged in research, 7 (0.6%) served as engineering student ambassadors, 6 (0.5%) were peer mentors, 10 (0.8%) engaged in internships, 300 (25.0%) participated in student organizations directly related to engineering, and 212 (17.7%) participated in student organizations outside engineering. In spring semester, 68 (5.7%) students were involved in research, 20 (1.7%) served as engineering student ambassadors, 10 (0.8%) were peer mentors, 32 (2.7%) engaged in internships, 394 (32.8%) participated in engineering student organizations, and 241 (20.1%) participated in student organizations outside engineering.
Hierarchical multiple regression analyses showed that, when controlling for students’ gender, age, ethnicity, and pre-entry engineering identity, engaging in internships in the fall was negatively associated with students’ engineering identity at the end of their freshman year (β = -1.00, p = .006) and participation in student organizations directly related to engineering in the spring was positively associated with engineering identity (β = .09, p = .044). No other activities were found to significantly relate to engineering identity at the end of fall or spring semesters.
Findings demonstrate that the timing and type of co-curricular activity in which students engage differentially influence the development of engineering identity. The negative relationship between taking an internship in the fall and engineering identity suggests that participation in such an intensive co-curricular activity early in one’s academic career can be detrimental to the development of engineering identity. In contrast, the positive relationship between participation in engineering organizations in the spring of freshmen year and engineering identity suggests that one semester’s worth of experience in the major may be sufficient for certain types of extracurricular activities to benefit engineering identity. This work was supported by a National Science Foundation IUSE grant.
Are you a researcher? Would you like to cite this paper?
Visit the ASEE document repository at
for more tools and easy citations.