The United States is facing a one-million-person shortfall in STEM professionals within the next decade. To abate this shortfall, it is necessary for the United States higher education system to educate additional STEM majors. It is widely known that at least one third of college freshman will change their majors and, unfortunately, students in STEM majors are even more likely to change majors than their non-STEM counterparts. The development of an engineering identity early in lower division undergraduates may decrease the number of students transferring out of engineering programs within the first two years of college. This proposal aims to enhance the engineering identity of freshman and sophomore students studying chemical engineering by involving them in course-related interventions. These interventions utilize senior chemical engineering students as near-peer role models and simultaneously integrate content from the senior capstone design course into-lower division, core chemical engineering courses. It may be that students who leave engineering lack a strong engineering identity, and growing this identity early in the curriculum will increase persistence in the field. A desired outcome of this work is the increased persistence of students within the chemical engineering program through this near-peer mentoring program that uses senior level students as role models. A second outcome of the proposed work is training the principle investigator in educational research methods to increase the body of scientists equipped to lead research endeavors in the area of engineering education research. This project serves as a foundation for future work to examine formation of an engineering identity as impacted by of the integration of senior students via their capstone design projects into other areas of the curriculum. This two-year project aims to determine to what extent, relative to a control group, does exposure to a peer mentor increase students' engineering identity development over time compared to those who do not receive a peer mentoring intervention. Year 1 introduces a cohort of freshman students in an introductory chemical engineering course to senior chemical engineering capstone-design students through in-class and out-of-class interactions centered around their design projects. Year 2 will incorporate capstone-design into recitation sections of a material and energy balances course taken by sophomore students via short problem-based learning exercises facilitated by the capstone-design students. The quantity and timing of the peer interactions and their impact on engineering identity development will be measured. Finally, the research team will assess the extent to which students perceive that peer-mentoring influenced their engineering identity development, knowledge acquisition and persistence. The theoretical framework on which the work is based incorporates both socialization theory and role acquisition theory. Engineering identity will be assessed through a validated survey instrument and compared between groups of students who receive or do not receive the intervention. In addition to the quantitative survey instrument, qualitative data regarding the student-perceived quality of the interventions will be obtained through focus groups. Professional development activities, meant to satisfy the mentoring component of the project, will occur in tandem with the research plan and include: (1) the formal training of the principle investigator in quantitative research methods through completion of an online graduate certificate with a focus on education; (2) the mentorship of the principle investigator through inclusion in the Discipline-Based Education Research Group at the institution; and (3) inclusion of the principle investigator at the weekly education research group meetings of co- principle investigator. The simultaneous execution of the research plan and professional development plan provides immediate context to the formal and informal training.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.