Preparing the next generation expert (NGE) in engineering or computing is well documented in the literature as a necessary problem of practice to focus efforts. Programs to retain students in these majors have been developed, implemented, and studied to ensure their effectiveness. In Fall 2020, as the world was processing how to move forward while managing a pandemic, a cohort of 3100 students were beginning their Freshman year at a US, land grant university. Of that cohort, 798 students had declared an engineering or computing major and 160 were beginning their academic goals not ready for calculus. This cohort of students is defined by the literature as academically under-prepared for an engineering or computing major and is expected to continue increasing in size in the coming years.
Embracing its mission as the land-grant institution of a Northwestern state in the US, a single application process determines admission to the university and to the College of Engineering. This extends an invitation to students: “Come ready to engage with your academic community and we will help you move forward from any level of academic readiness.” Retention programming meets students at the door to help them integrate into the college – including those who are not ready for calculus. This study used a phenomenographic approach and combined two complex theoretical frameworks to explore the student experience with a modified version of an academically under-prepared (AUP) retention program developed to support freshmen in engineering or computing majors. This approach provided a snapshot of eight student-participants' experiences with a structured retention program and its effect on their developing relationship with engineering or computing content. Data were gathered through one-on-one, semi-structured interviews to answer an over-arching research question, with four complementary questions focusing on how sources of self-efficacy influence an individual’s engagement with challenging academic content.
This work-in-progress uses the student experience to present support for pairing an invitation to consider engineering or computing as disciplines to pursue with programs fostering an inclusive culture related to academic readiness. Retention programs can do this if they are intentionally structured and there is a culture that normalizes any level of academic readiness as an acceptable foundation for pursuing engineering or computing. Findings from this work share, through the student's voice, their interest and ideas for strong, well-organized programs which help them establish relationships with their academic community.
Are you a researcher? Would you like to cite this paper?
Visit the ASEE document repository at
for more tools and easy citations.