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Innovation and Incubator Grants from the University System of Georgia

Increasing Retention Rates of Mechanical Engineering Students Through an Integrated, Collaborative First-Year Course

Kennesaw State University


Grant Type: 
Project Lead: 
Ruth A. Goldfine
Department of First-Year and Transition Studies
Other team members: 

Cathy Bradford, Director, Learning Communities Program
Kennesaw State University

Lori Lowder, Interim Chair, Department of Mechanical Engineering
Kennesaw State University

Laura Ruhala, Associate Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering
Kennesaw State University

Hillary Steiner, Assistant Director, Learning Communities Program
Kennesaw State University

Project Overview: 

This project seeks to create a course that serves as both an introduction to Mechanical Engineering (ME) and a first-year seminar course.  Both courses, which currently exist as separate entities, share common learning outcomes focused on academic success.  The proposed course would integrate the curriculum of these courses to create a new course that introduces students to ME while helping them develop study skills and strategies to succeed in ME and subsequent STEM courses.  The proposed course would be modeled after an existing seminar that has been implemented successfully within a targeted learning community (TLC) for chemistry students. 

Project Description: 

Impact on Completion

The proposed course is intended to increase the completion rate of ME students by equipping them with academic strategies to succeed in ME/STEM courses.  It will also offer students the opportunity to learn more about careers in ME so they can make an informed decision about majoring in this field. 

Potential Lessons to be Learned

Potential lessons to be learned include (1) whether targeted study strategies are effective in helping students succeed in ME/STEM courses and in providing students the foundation to persist in an ME/STEM field of study, and (2) whether first-year seminars are instrumental in promoting the success of students in ME/STEM fields.

Concept Description

Research has shown that students who participate in first-year seminars are more successful academically and tend to persist in college to a greater degree than students who do not enroll in these seminars.  However, programs in the STEM fields, such as the Mechanical Engineering (ME) program at Kennesaw State University (KSU), typically have high-credit-hour requirements, as dictated by their accrediting bodies.  Such high-credit-hour requirements leave little room for students to participate in classes that fall outside their majors, thus precluding or discouraging students in STEM majors from enrolling in a first-year seminar, which, at KSU, is a three-credit-hour course.

While, understandably, the addition of the three credit hours attached to the first-year seminar imposes an increased number of credit hours upon students, failure to take the course deprives them of the benefits of the seminar, which has been shown to increase academic success and persistence, both at KSU and nationally.  The proposed project would offer students in high-credit-hour majors the opportunity to participate in a first-year seminar course without substantially increasing the number of credit hours they are required to take.  Specifically, students in STEM majors at KSU are typically required to take a two-credit-hour course that is an introduction to their major field of study.  This course shares in common some of the learning objectives of the first-year seminar.  Consequently, we have envisioned a new seminar course that would integrate the introduction to the major course with the first-year seminar to create a new three-credit-hour course that incorporates the required information relative to the major and the essential elements of the first-year seminar.  In this way, STEM majors will be given access to and benefit from the elements of a first-year seminar with an increase of only one-credit-hour, rather than three, in their programs of study.

The proposed project has the potential to reduce the number of DFWs in STEM courses, which will in turn allow students to persist in college and successfully graduate with these degrees.  While the pilot program will work exclusively with Mechanical Engineering majors, the program has the potential to be replicated for other STEM majors, such as Electrical Engineering majors, facing the same high-credit-hour situation. A previous study of the benefits of this targeted-seminar approach demonstrated positive outcomes for first-year STEM students at KSU (Steiner, Dean, Foote, & Goldfine, in press), including increased retention and metacognition in a General Chemistry course in which they were co-enrolled.

The potential lessons learned from the project include the effectiveness of providing targeted academic success strategies to STEM majors.  Specifically, based on the success of a similar initiative within our learning communities program (described above), we believe that providing STEM majors with academic support, in the form of self-regulation and study strategies designed specifically to promote academic success in STEM courses, can promote increased success in select courses.  For the course proposed in this project, we hope to further facilitate student success by replicating key aspects of the previously successful initiative and by incorporating additional elements to foster success, such as Supplemental Instruction (SI).

If this pilot proves successful, the project could be scaled and replicated throughout the USG.  The potential short-term impact may be the increased retention, progression, and graduation rate of STEM majors at KSU and ultimately within the USG.  Baseline data on the one-year retention rates for ME majors at KSU are provided in the Appendix.  The potential long-term impact may be an increased ability of USG institutions to meet the demand for mechanical engineers in the State of Georgia.  According to the Governor’s High Demand Career Initiative Report released in 2014, mechanical engineering is the career in highest demand in the state (Wilson, Epps, Tanner, Gordon, & Sigler, 2014).

Moreover, the proposed project is a collaborative effort, bringing together two units at the newly consolidated Kennesaw State University – the Department of Mechanical Engineering (a unit of the former SPSU) and the Department of First-Year and Transition Studies (a unit of the former KSU).  These two departments have committed to working closely together for the benefit of our students to develop a truly integrated course that will enhance learning and promote retention among ME majors and, potentially, other STEM majors at KSU.

Project Plan

The goals, objectives, and deliverables associated with the proposed project are detailed below.  Given that the proposed project falls into the Incubate category, it is anticipated that the course discussed herein will be designed, developed, and approved in the six to twelve months following grant award.  Thus, at the end of that time, we will have a course ready to launch fall 2016.  Preliminary assessment data to determine the effectiveness and impact of the course – and to compare to the baseline data – will require an additional 12 months after the launch of the pilot course.


The goal of this project is to draw on elements of the Introduction to Mechanical Engineering course and the first-year seminar course to create a new, integrated course that meets the stated outcomes of both courses from which it was developed.


The objectives of this project are to:

  1. Provide STEM majors with the benefits of a first-year seminar course (i.e., increased academic success, greater retention rates, etc.) without substantially increasing the required semester hours for their programs of study.  (The proposed course would increase their required credit hours by one.  Participating in an existing seminar course would increase their credit hours by three.)
  2. Promote lower DFW rates among STEM majors in targeted STEM/STEM-related courses.
  3. Promote increased academic success among targeted STEM majors.


The deliverables for this project are:

  1. A new course that serves incoming Mechanical Engineering students by:
    1. Ensuring they have the requisite “introduction to the major” course content, as dictated by the accrediting bodies for Mechanical Engineering.
    2. Ensuring they are provided with targeted study strategies to facilitate their success in ME and STEM courses.
    3. Ensuring they meet KSU’s first-year curriculum requirement[1] without substantially increasing the number of credit hours required for their degree program.
  2. The creation of a faculty fellow position, drawing from faculty in the Mechanical Engineering Department, who will be responsible for:
    1. Participating in the efforts to develop the proposed seminar
    2. Serving as liaison between the PI/Co-PIs of this project and full-/part-time faculty in the Mechanical Engineering Department.
    3. Promoting and marketing the proposed course.
    4. Assisting in data gathering and assessment efforts related to the proposed course.




Summer 2015

Identify Mechanical Engineering faculty member to serve as the faculty fellow for the proposed project (L. Lowder/R. Goldfine)

Summer 2015

Submit required IRB documentation (R. Goldfine)

Fall 2015

Conduct research and gather data necessary to develop curriculum for proposed course.  (PI and Co-PIs on this proposed project, with assistance from members of their respective departments, as necessary)

Fall 2015 – Spring 2016

Faculty fellow to collaborate with STEM faculty to seek input for course curriculum as well as buy-in for the course

Spring 2016

Develop marketing strategy to promote proposed course

Summer 2016

Train faculty to teach proposed course (Faculty fellow/Members of FYTS Department)

Summer 2016

Identify control group for assessment purposes

Summer 2016

Market proposed course via email efforts and on-campus orientation sessions

Fall 2016

Launch proposed course

Spring-Summer 2017

Conduct assessment of effectiveness of course and prepare final report

Logic Model

Logic Model

Project Budget

Budget Item



Faculty Fellow


Of these funds, $10,000 will be paid to the faculty fellow’s home department to buy out time during the academic year for work on the proposed project.  The remaining $5000 will be used as a summer stipend for the faculty fellow to prepare for the launch of the course fall 2016.  Faculty fellow will lead the effort to develop the proposed course and to secure faculty buy-in among STEM disciplines and across campus. 

Graduate Research Assistant (GRA)


These funds will pay the salary of a graduate research assistant for two semesters to support the PI/Co-PIs of this project in gathering assessment data and preparing the final assessment report.  The GRA will be housed in the Department of First-Year and Transition Studies and will report directly to the PI of this proposed project.

Professional Development and Travel


These funds will be used at the discretion of the faculty fellow for the purposes of his/her professional development and travel or that of the GRA.

Marketing Materials


These funds will be used to market and promote the course among both faculty and students in the Mechanical Engineering program. 

Project Evaluation

To evaluate the success of the proposed initiative, the PI/Co-PIs of this project will:

  1. Examine the content of the proposed course to ensure the learning outcomes of the two original courses that were merged have been incorporated.
  2. Survey students and/or conduct focus groups to gain their perspective on the effectiveness of the proposed course.
  3. Conduct interviews with the faculty members who taught the proposed course to solicit their feedback.
  4. Compare student participants’ grades with those of the control group for the targeted STEM/STEM-related courses at the end of the fall 2016 semester.
  5. Compare the overall GPAs of student participants with those of the control group at the end of the fall 2016 semester.
  6. Compare the retention rates, progression rates, and GPAs for student participants with those in the control group at the conclusion of each subsequent spring semester (i.e., spring 2017, 2018, 2019, etc.) until such time that all student participants are no longer enrolled at KSU.

Appendix 1: Baseline Data

Fall 2011 to Fall 2012 Retention Rates in Engineering Programs at KSU

Engineering Program

One-Year Retention Rate













The overall retention rate of all engineering programs at KSU is 57.0%.

Appendix 2: References

Steiner, H.H., Dean, M. L., Foote, S.M., & Goldfine, R.A. (in press). The targeted learning community: A comprehensive approach to promoting the success of first-year students in general chemistry. In L.C. Schmidt & J. Graziano (Eds.), Building synergy for high-impact educational initiatives: First-year seminars and learning communities. Columbia, SC: National Resource Center. 

Wilson, G., Epps, D., Tanner, D., Gordon, R., & Sigler, T.J.  (2014). Governor’s high demand career initiative report.  Athens, GA:  Carl Vinson Institute of Government at UGA. Available at


[1] All first-year, full-time students entering Kennesaw State University with fewer than 15 semester hours are required to complete a first-year seminar or an academic learning community. This requirement must be satisfied during a student’s first term of enrollment at Kennesaw State University. Students with 30 or more credit hours are not eligible to enroll in a first-year seminar or a learning community.