Moving from pipeline thinking to understanding pathways: Findings from the academic pathways study of engineering undergraduates

Cynthia Atman, Sheri Sheppard, Lorraine Fleming, Ronald Miller, Karl Smith, Reed Stevens, Ruth Streveler, Christine Loucks-Jaret, Dennis Lund

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


The Academic Pathways Study (APS) is part of the Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education (CAEE), an NSF-funded higher education Center for Learning and Teaching that is in its sixth year. The APS consists of longitudinal and cross-sectional studies of engineering students' learning experience and the transition to work. APS research questions are focused on student skills, identity, education and the transition to the workplace to investigate what skills engineering graduates are bringing with them into an increasingly complex world. The study relies on multiple methods and data sources including surveys, structured interviews, semi-structured interviews, an engineering design task, academic transcripts, and exit interviews. Overall, the preliminary findings to date indicate a large variation in student pathways and institutional influences. A range of factors affect the educational pathways traveled by engineering students: reasons for their choice of major, heavy workloads and competition in their programs, little vision into engineering in the first two years when they are taking math and science courses outside of engineering departments. Reasons for leaving include a fear of losing scholarship support (that dictates choice of classes), lack of confidence in math and science skills, and the perception that engineering is too "narrow" a field. Reasons for staying include sponsorship of student strengths and skills, satisfaction of completing a rigorous course of study, the desire to contribute to the public good, and a vision of the potential for a comfortable lifestyle following graduation. In many cases, students have very different perceptions of diversity and its role in their education. Some of these factors affect the quality of the student experience, whereas others affect commitment to the field. Many of these factors influence men and women in different ways and change over time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - 2008
Externally publishedYes
Event2008 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition - Pittsburg, PA, United States
Duration: Jun 22 2008Jun 24 2008


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