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Conference Proceeding

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The implementation of co-curricular and extracurricular pre-college engineering programs has expanded dramatically in recent years. Many states now include engineering as part of their education standards for both students and teachers, reflecting the increasing acceptance of engineering at the K-12 level and its potential value to students. In addition to promoting outcomes that benefit all students regardless of career aspirations such as increased math and science achievement and greater technological literacy, K-12 engineering programs have been identified as a means of recruiting and retaining potential students in engineering.

The growth of pre-college engineering programs means that increasing numbers of incoming engineering students will have had some exposure to engineering prior to their enrollment in engineering programs. However, the effects of pre-college engineering experiences on undergraduate engineering students are relatively unexplored. To address this lack of understanding, this study uses a mixed-methods exploratory approach to examine how exposure to pre-college engineering programs affects the experiences of university engineering students. Conducting and analyzing phenomenographic interviews with cohorts of first year engineering students yielded five qualitatively different ways undergraduate engineering students experience the transition from pre-college to university engineering. These experiences range from feeling trapped in engineering due to pre-college engineering, to feelings of boredom and frustration due to misalignments between the two sets of experiences, to experiencing a boost in confidence and the ability to help others as a result of participation in pre-college engineering programs.

We are currently utilizing these qualitative results to develop an instrument to measure the extent of these effects in the larger population of undergraduate engineering students at multiple institutions. We are also exploring the relationship between pre-college engineering participation and quantitative measures of success in undergraduate engineering, including grades and persistence.

While some undergraduate engineering programs may take into account pre-college engineering experiences when forming design teams, most undergraduate programs assume little to no formal exposure to engineering prior to matriculation. The results of this research will help engineering administrators, instructors and designers of undergraduate and pre-college curricula adapt to students’ changing needs and abilities as a result of their increased experience with engineering prior to university.

Copyright Statement

© (2015), American Society for Engineering Education, Proceedings of ASEE Annual Conference (Seattle, WA).