Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Best Paper Award Recognizes Research in Electrical Engineering Student Motivation

Jamie Phillips and Justin Foley
Justin Foley (PhD Applied Physics 2014) and Prof. Jamie Phillips

Prof. Jamie Phillips and ECE undergraduate advisor Catherine Lenaway, along with co-authors Prof. Shanna Daly (Mechanical Engineering) and Phillips’ former student Justin Foley, have earned the Theodore E. Batchman Best Paper Award for their work examining the motivations of students in electrical engineering. Their paper, “Investigating Student Motivation and Performance in Electrical Engineering and Its Subdisciplines,” was published in IEEE Transactions on Education.

This project set out to identify factors that influence students to choose electrical engineering as their major, and then how they chose specific specialites within the discipline. The authors analyzed student transcripts, surveys, and held focus groups. The results may be used to help determine how to refashion the undegraduate curriculum to make students aware early on of the choices available in electrical engineering, and to better advise students.

“We realized that analytics could inform us why EE students choose that curriculum path,” says Phillips. “Understanding that can help us figure out how to best advise students, inform students to make good decisions, and structure our curriculum to help them decide which specialization is a good fit for them.”

These analytics included comparing student performance with their chosen discipline, in an effort to determine how performance in EE relates to curriculum choices. While strong performance in early math and physics courses doesn’t necessarily predict an EE major on its own, above average performance in certain required courses early on in the EE program is a strong indicator of this choice.

The authors concluded that early exposure to EE technical areas was likely the best way to draw more students to the field further down the line.

Prof. Shanna Daly is a professor in the Engineering Education Research program, as well as Mechanical Engineering. Justin Foley (PhD Applied Physics 2014), currently working on as a postdoc at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, is interested in returning to academia further down the road.

The award will be presented at the Frontiers in Education conference on October 20, 2017.

Posted August 14, 2017