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NMSU’s Engineering Freshman Year Experience improves retention

After implementing the Freshman Year Experience program in the College of Engineering in fall 2014, New Mexico State University has dramatically increased the number of students retained as sophomores in the college.

Students work outside on a pulley system.
New Mexico State University students in the College of Engineering’s Freshman Year Experience course work on a pulley-system project outside of Jett Hall and Goddard Hall. (NMSU photo by Elizabeth Howard)

The President’s Performance Fund has supported the initiative with $76,000 per year for up to three years. All engineering students are required to take ENGR 100, which is recommended to students in their first semester if they meet the math co-requisite, MATH 121. With the new program, NMSU has seen an increase of 78.5 percent of students retained to sophomore year compared to 63.9 percent before the program.

“We have realized for a long time that only one in three students enrolled in engineering will actually graduate,” said Sonya Cooper, College of Engineering associate dean of academics. “We know we can’t achieve 100 percent retention at all levels, but we can put some programs and resources in place to help knock down some barriers that our students are facing.

“We decided to start with the freshman level, because there are tested programs that have worked at other universities with similar demographics of students. We also wanted to expand upon a program we had for low placement math students, to all freshman. With the President’s Performance Fund award, we saw the opportunity to support these initiatives.”

When the Freshman Year Experience started in fall 2014, seven sections with 224 students were enrolled and the program has grown to 12 sections with 384 students. The program includes junior- and senior-level peer mentors and dedicated English 111 sections for the freshmen.

“I believe the success of the program is due to students getting engaged in a centralized class from their first semester of college,” said Elizabeth Howard, program coordinator. “The program introduces them to freshman experiences, engagement activities and engineering curriculum. The program also provides peer mentoring where students can get help with college adjustment and assistance with their classes.”

The course objectives for the Freshman Year Experience are to identify and utilize engineering design processes, enhance team building skills, introduce engineering ethics and improve technical skills.

As lead instructor and curriculum developer for the program, John Ross Tapia said he hopes the course helps students enjoy their freshmen year and introductory engineering course. He continued, “It is an opportunity to interact with young engineering students and is a great opportunity to work with some of our world’s future engineers.”

Tapia said he has been surprised by the fact that some students in the introductory course are unaware of all the department choices available in the college.

“I will continue to work on bringing activities that will enhance the students’ knowledge on all departments. This way they have an opportunity to choose or change majors before getting too deep into one department then changing their mind,” Tapia said.

While the college will continue to refine the Freshman Year Experience annually, Cooper said they also have programs geared toward every year.

“There are programs within all levels that we hope to extend to every student in order to increase their persistence through their degree program so they graduate and have that chance to work toward a promising career,” Cooper said.