The College of Engineering (CoE) in our institution, although enjoying a modest 92% freshmen retention rate, contradicts common statistics. While freshman retention rates in the last ten years has remained virtually unchanged, graduation rates have been observed a decline of more than 15% in the same period.
To increase persistence, graduation rates, and professional success of low-income, academically talented students (LIATS), the CoE has initiated the Program for Engineering Access, Retention, and LIATS Success (PEARLS). The main objective of this project is identifying and understanding which factors play an important role in the college access and success in engineering of LIATS. PEARLS proposes a portable model aimed at dictating guidelines for institutional policies and intervention methods that allow our institution to strengthen retention strategies and in the long run contribute to increase graduation rates of economically disadvantaged students.
Throughout PEARLS, incoming engineering freshmen are exposed to multiple institutional experiences. Two of these experiences are one-credit courses: Introduction to Engineering (INGE-3001) in their first freshman semester, and Introduction to Engineering Learning Communities (ELC) (INGE-3002) in the second semester. INGE-3001 is designed introduce LIATS to all engineering disciplines offered in the CoE, allowing them understanding the structure and difference between programs to reassure their career choice. INGE-3002 is designed to deepen students’ knowledge about their chosen field of study and the importance of fundamental math, science, and basic engineering courses in the solution of real life problems. To this end, INGE-3002 connects first semester freshmen LIATS with senior students working in special-project design teams or with teams developing their capstone design project, developing a non-conventional learning community. During the interactions, freshmen learn about engineering design, follow-up the seniors’ solution development, and participate in the presentations of the teams. LIATS are tasked with identifying the usage of fundamental math, science, and engineering concepts to complete the design; with the primary objective of showing them the importance of these first courses in their curriculum in their professional development; and at the same time to motivate them to appreciate and put effort into learning and doing well in these courses that for many of them are not relevant to the engineering career and become the reason for leaving this career.
This article presents a description of the INGE-3002 course, the course objectives and metrics established to evaluate its effectiveness. We describe the experience of ELC for three semesters. Finally, the article presents and analyzes the results obtained from the implementation of this scheme, identifying what we consider encouraging results and lessons learned as a method to establish guidelines for its continuous application.
Some results: the majority of the students who took INGE-3002 reported that the course impacted them very much or a lot in the following areas: made them aware of the importance of basic engineering courses (86%, 13 of 15), strengthen their interest in the engineering major that they selected (66.66%, 10 of 15), strengthen their decision to study engineer (60%, 9 of 15), gave them the opportunity to connect with seniors working in their capstone design project (60%, 9 of 15), and learned more about engineering designs (60%, 9 of 15).
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