Not everyone is cut out for engineering. But more could be. According to the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), students leave because they see it as “a learning environment that fails to motivate them and is unwelcoming.” So the ASEE retention project asked schools what they are doing to improve the perception.

The retention rate has many possible inputs. For instance, the school’s selectivity, and the student’s gender and ethnicity all affect the likelihood a student will stay until graduation. At the heart of the problem are preparedness and support. How ready are entering freshman, and what resources are available to help them along the way?

ASEE asked schools for examples of their most successful retention activities.  Methods ranged from “holistic” to specific. Most schools use multiple strategies such as academic support and work opportunities to help engage students. Other common practices include tutoring, mentoring and specific programs for first-year and at-risk students.

Best-practices were received from nearly 60 schools and the efforts were categorized as:

·         Focus on Student Learning Through Tutoring/Mentoring

·         Student Programs and Financial Aid

·         Student Academic Enrichment Programs

·         Student Research/Work Experience

·         Curriculum and Class Enhancements

·         Institutional/Educational Research

·         Change in Institutional/Departmental Policy

In addition to support methods such as tutoring, common academic enrichment methods involved Bridge Programs for incoming high school students as well as academic advising. Effective approaches in curriculum development included new course development and moving design and practical engineering courses earlier in the curriculum.

Selected school responses were also provided in the study. For example, the University of Maryland’s first- and second-year retention rates of engineering students increased by about 10 percent, and the five-year graduation rate by five percent after introducing the Keystone Program. This program places dedicated teaching faculty in courses taken within the first two years as well as providing comprehensive academic support.

By implementing a first-year student support and enrichment program, West Virginia University’s first-to-second-year engineering retention rose nearly 15 percent to 79.3 percent. This was accomplished by encouraging students to develop appropriate time management and study habits, learn about various engineering careers and become engaged in engineering student organizations, mentorship relationships, etc.

The recipe for retention must involve a generous dose of motivation and plenty of support. Developing a feeling of community and engaging students early are vital to keeping them enrolled. Entering students have a spark for engineering. Fanning that spark into a flame takes an understanding of where expectations and experience don’t match up.

Mark Atwater

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Kenya Engineer is the definitive publication of Engineers in East Africa & beyond and the official journal of the Institution of Engineers of Kenya. Kenya Engineer has been in publication since 1972.

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