Beginning an Engineer's Journey: A Narrative Examination of How, When, and Why Students Choose the Engineering Major

Joshua Cruz, Nadia Kellam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


Background: While recent engineering education research has focused on the pathways that students take as they transition into engineering programs in higher education, little has explicitly focused on developing an understanding of students as they select and transfer into engineering from other majors. Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to gain a better understanding of how engineering students enter the engineering field by comparing commonalities across their experiences. Given recent literature that describes student dissatisfaction toward, misinformation about, and attrition in engineering programs, we explore the lived experiences of students entering the engineering field, with a particular focus on students changing their majors to engineering. Methods: This paper synthesizes the stories of 21 undergraduate engineering students from a southeastern research university, 15 of whom began their undergraduate program in other majors and transferred into engineering. We employ a unique narrative structuralizing scheme based on Campbell's hero's journey and use the metaphor of the beginning of the journey to understand student trajectories that locate students in engineering studies. Conclusions: With this information, we can better understand student conceptions of the engineering field when they enter; who enters the engineering field and why; how students’ expectations are met or not in engineering programs; and what are the factors that ultimately contribute to first-year retention in engineering programs. In general, students entering engineering tend to have a limited understanding of what is entailed in an engineering program and benefit from interactions with advisors, teachers, and peers in the field. Such interactions may help students to more clearly decide what aspects of engineering are appropriate for them to pursue and help them to persist as they begin coursework.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)556-582
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Engineering Education
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2018


  • engineering pathways
  • first-year experience
  • hero's journey
  • preparation
  • student experience

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • General Engineering


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