The purpose of this paper is to report the impact of a redesigned first-year civil engineering course on student confidence, sense of belonging, and retention. This paper provides an overview of the course and a peer mentored design project, the student-peer mentoring team structure, and summarizes the qualitative and quantitative feedback with statistical analysis.
Content delivery was changed (traditional to flipped classroom), and 3D CAD/simulation and 3D printing, MATLAB, and peer mentorship were also integrated. The new course was designed to introduce students to i) the various sub-disciplines within civil engineering, ii) 3D CAD, iii) basic quantitative engineering analysis and programming with EXCEL® and MATLAB®, iv) engineering design with structural modeling software, and v) 3D printing.
At mid-semester, the first-year students are placed into teams of 4 to 5 and paired with a fourth year (senior) student peer mentoring team and tasked with completing an engineering design project. The fourth-year students meet with the first-year students on a weekly basis for seven to eight weeks to i) help organize the project, ii) discuss effective time management strategies, iii) provide engineering technical expertise, and iv) provide general academic advice. Meeting notes and peer evaluations are recorded and documented as part of the project effort. Each first-year student team completes a design-build-test project centered around the design and manufacturing of a functional 3D printed structure that satisfies realistic constraints. Structural analysis and design are completed using an open-source CAD software, and a prototype of the structure is printed using a PLA plastic printer available to each team within a designated makerspace.
Quantitative methods were used to assess the student attitudes within the different cohorts using pre/post questionnaires. Four different civil engineering student cohorts were surveyed: freshman, sophomore, and juniors (completed redesigned course), and senior students (completed course prior to course redesign). The survey response data indicates that students completing the first-year course positively value the design and peer mentorship experience, and their STEM confidence, affinity towards math and science, and their sense of belonging improves. Since the redesign in 2017, the first to second-year retention rate has increased from 42% in 2016 to 57% in 2017, 70% in 2018, and 73% in 2019; and the first to third-year retention rate has increased from 38% in 2016 to 50% in 2017 and 60% in 2018. In addition, the senior mentors feel that peer mentorship experience is an excellent addition to the curriculum and gained valuable insights while mentoring first-year students.
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