Understanding Student Attitudes in a Freshman Design Sequence *
Research has shown that students’ initial attitudes are key to understanding attrition in engineering programs. The College of Engineering at Michigan State University introduced a cornerstone design sequence in fall 2008 that provided an opportunity to study freshman attitudes towards engineering. We tested whether the new design sequence (DS) was more effective than the older traditional sequence (TS) at positively influencing freshman attitudes over the course of one semester. We collected attitude data twice, i.e., in the beginning and towards the end of fall 2008 semester, using the Pittsburgh Freshman Engineering Attitude Survey, and examined changes in attitude in the two groups with repeated analysis of covariance models. In fall 2008, 722 freshmen entered the College of Engineering. The analyses reported here include data from 389 of those students. We found that freshmen join the program with positive or strongly positive attitudes towards engineering. Those strong attitudes are durable and resistant to change. Students in the DS group had higher ACT scores, enjoyed math and science the most, and did not believe engineering to be an exact science. The DS and TS groups had similar longitudinal trajectories so there was no evidence for differential influence on student attitudes. Strongly positive initial attitudes coupled with insignificant changes in these attitudes could mean that one semester is insufficient to effect a measureable change. This quantitative study is a subset to the longitudinal study based on explanatory mixed methods design. The qualitative data collected in a follow up study (one-on- one interviews) may shed more light on the numerical results to further investigate the effectiveness of the freshman curriculum.