Gary Lichtenstein is consulting professor in the School of Engineering at Stanford University and owner of Quality Evaluation Designs, a firm specializing in education research, evaluation, and policy. His intellectual interests include engineering education, mixed-methods research, and community-based research. He has conducted research and evaluation for K-12 schools, higher education institutions, and non-profit and government organizations nationwide. He has researched the preparation of undergraduate engineers as part of the National Academy of Engineering, the Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education, and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
Comparing the Undergraduate Experience of Engineers to All Other Majors: Significant Differences are Programmatic
Article first published online: 2 JAN 2013
2010 American Society for Engineering Education
Journal of Engineering Education
Volume 99, Issue 4, pages 305–317, October 2010
How to Cite
Lichtenstein, G., McCormick, A. C., Sheppard, S. D. and Puma, J. (2010), Comparing the Undergraduate Experience of Engineers to All Other Majors: Significant Differences are Programmatic. Journal of Engineering Education, 99: 305–317. doi: 10.1002/j.2168-9830.2010.tb01065.x
- Issue published online: 2 JAN 2013
- Article first published online: 2 JAN 2013
- student engagement;
- undergraduate major
The authors partnered with the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) to examine how persistence within the engineering major and engagement of undergraduate students in engineering compare to other majors.
We explored three research questions: How do engineering students rate their college engagement compared to students in other majors? How do engineering persisters, non-persisters, and migrators compare in terms of collegiate engagement, time on task, and enriching educational experiences? What college engagement factors predict persistence in engineering?
Data are from nearly 12,000 students who completed the NSSE survey in their first and senior years as undergraduates. Surveys were analyzed using ANOVA and Chi-square calculations to determine whether differences emerged in three dimensions of student engagement based on students' self-reported major. Due to the large sample, effect size was used to determine statistical significance. Binary logistic regression was used to identify factors that predict persistence among first year students and seniors in engineering.
Results show that engineering majors are similar to non-engineering majors on most variables. However, engineering majors reported significantly higher gains in practical competence and higher order thinking, but the lowest means on reflective learning and gains in general education. Engineering majors reported significantly more time preparing for class and less time participating in educationally enriching experiences.
We conclude that different educational outcomes between majors are the result of programmatic differences. The packed engineering curriculum requires students to make trade-offs between gaining practical/marketable skills and participating in educationally enriching activities. We question this trade-off and suggest alternative approaches.