Analysis of first-year engineering student essays on engineering interests for institutions of different carnegie classifications
At the 2011 ASEE meeting, a study was presented investigating the factors that motivate students' initial pathway into engineering. Results showed that while common themes emerged, there were differences in motivation between genders and amongst disciplines. As a follow-up to this study, we investigated responses of freshman engineering students to the same question at two new institutions: a large state research university and a small regional liberal arts college. We hypothesized that incoming students at these different types of institutions would be interested in engineering for different reasons. As part of an in-class assignment for the Introduction to Engineering courses at each institution, students were asked to respond to the prompt, "Engineering is a very broad field of study. What is it about engineering that interests you?" The essay responses of 215 students (49 from the small liberal arts college and 166 from the large state university) were reviewed by two engineering education researchers (initially coded independently and then codes compared for final classification). The coding used in the 2010 study was followed for this study. Response frequencies for the different coding categories were compared for the two present institutions as well as the original mediumsized private selective research (or comprehensive) university. The top reasons that students cited were similar at all three institutions. They included: innovation/creativity/design, building things, math/science, practicality/real world applications, knowing how things work, and problem solving. The least popular reasons were also similar for all three institutions: preparation for another career, group work, a family member in engineering, previous experience in engineering, and engineering being a broad field. Statistically significant differences in responses were found amongst the different types of institutions. Two of the overall most popular responses, math/science and problem solving, were significantly more popular at the medium private selective research university and significantly less popular at the large state research university. Conversely, another overall most popular response, innovation/creativity/design was significantly more popular at the large state research university and significantly less popular at the medium private research university. Amongst the least popular responses at all institutions, students at the large state research university had statistically fewer responses than the overall mean in the categories of engineering being a good career, a broad field, having previous experience, and having a family member in engineering. Conversely, the medium private research university had more respondents in the categories of having previous experience, a family member in engineering, and engineering being a broad field. Specific Career and Preparation for Other Career were cited significantly less frequently at the small private liberal arts college than the mean and other comparisons are limited based on the small sample size at this institution. With regard to gender, statistically significant differences were seen at both institutions (large and medium sized), although in different categories. At the large state research institution math/science and specific interests were cited more frequently by females and broad field was cited more frequently by males. At the medium private research university build things, how things work, design/creative/innovative were cited more frequently by males, while better world was cited more frequently by females. © 2012 American Society for Engineering Education.