ASEE Connections

February 2016




In This Issue:
    • Retention Range: The Wide Variation Among 2007 Freshmen

    • A Quick History of Free College Tuition
    • Ted Cruz Pushes for a School Voucher Plan in D.C.

    • Corporate Innovation: It Helps to Have High-Wage Rivals
    • Up on the Roof: A Startup Maps Urban Solar Potential

    • Social Appeal


    • Online Voting Opens for the 2016 ASEE Board Election
    • ERC Registration and Housing
    • Northeast Section Conference
    • 2016 Annual Conference Update
    • The St. Lawrence Section Conference
    • Panel Members Sought
    • Workshop on Professional Skills Assessment
    • eGFI is Here

    • What’s on Tap in the March/April 2016 Edition of Prism?


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*Retention and graduation rates shown account for the students who persisted to the next year or acquired a degree in engineering only. Students who left the cohort might not have necessarily dropped out of the institution rather pursued a degree outside engineering in the same institution.

ASEE recently completed data cleaning for its most recent round of data collection of undergraduate engineering student persistence and time to degree. The table above shows the interquartile range of student persistence and time to degree of 150 undergraduate engineering colleges, schools and programs. The percentages were calculated by taking the number of first-time, full-time students who persisted or attained a degree in a given year divided by the total number of first-time, full time students who entered a college, school or program of engineering in 2007. The percentages from row to row may be values from different schools. Persistence and time-to-degree rates vary greatly. For example, the school graduating the highest percentage of students attaining a degree from its original 2007 cohort was 97 percent, while 4 percent was the lowest. The school with the highest second-year persistence rate was 100 percent, while the lowest was 37.6 percent.

The annual benchmarks do not necessarily reflect the quality of an individual program. Retention and graduation rates may be affected by such factors as admission policies, school missions, and geographic area that are beyond a program’s control.





Bernie Sanders, the socialist U.S. senator from Vermont running for the Democratic presidential nomination, has made free college tuition a central plank of his candidacy. In a debate against opponent Hillary Clinton, just ahead of the Feb. 9 primary in New Hampshire — which Sanders won, handily — Sanders claimed that free-tuition at public universities is not at all uncommon outside the U.S. and used to exist in America, too. PolitiFact Florida looked into that claim and found it mostly true, but in need of clarification. It noted that in the United States there’s never been a national policy on tuition — college fees are set by the schools themselves, subject to a board of trustees or state legislators. Some U.S. public colleges were once tuition-free, but most long ago adopted fee-based enrollments — for example, California’s state schools were tuition-free for in-state students into the 1970s, and for a time in the early 20th century, resident students paid nil tuition at the University of Florida. Today, a few small private institutions — like Berea College in Kentucky — are free. Globally, a handful of countries — including those in Scandinavia, Germany and Turkey — do not charge university tuitions. England introduced tuition at public universities in the mid-90s, and in 2004 the amount that could be charged was capped at £3,000 ($4,350). The cap was increased to £9,000 ($13,050) in 2010 — around three-quarters of all schools charge the full amount — and another increase is penciled in for next year. Scotland, however, which is part of the U.K., does not charge tuition to single students under the age of 25. Critics of the last increase in England warned it might dampen the number of disadvantaged students seeking higher education. But last year the Guardian newspaper reported that the number of poorer students applying to universities jumped 72 percent between 2006 and 2015. And the BBC noted that while tuition in Germany is covered by taxpayers, only 27 percent of German youths earn university degrees compared to 48 percent in England.



Texas Sen. Ted Cruz took time from his Republican presidential campaign to introduce a bill he says is designed to provide more school choice in the District of Columbia. Slate magazine’s Schooled blog noted that, given that 44 percent of D.C. students already attend charter schools, Cruz’s initiative seems, at a minimum, unnecessary. Since 2004 the District has had a federally funded scholarship program that provides fees for low-income students attending private schools. But Cruz’s bill would require the District to use its own funds to give families of students around $9,500 per pupil if they wanted to send their children to private schools. The blog points out that Democrats tend to oppose voucher schemes because they take already meager funds away from school districts and hand them to private, often religious, schools with no regulatory strings attached. Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s delegate in Congress, said in a statement: “Who is Ted Cruz to tell D.C. government how to spend their own taxpayer funds on education . . . ?” A spokesman in the mayor’s office told the Washington Post: “I thought Senator Cruz was running for president, not a seat on the D.C. council.”





Competition spurs innovation, right? Not always. According to new research at the University of Michigan, innovation mainly occurs in companies challenged by rivals in high-wage countries. Companies battling competitors in low-wage countries typically reduce their research and development budgets and generate few breakthrough patents, the researchers say. The researchers, business strategy professors, studied the role of competition within a large sample of public U.S. manufacturers. Companies competing against firms in high-wage countries significantly increased their R&D spending and generated many more patents, more valuable patents and more breakthrough patents. A 10 percentage-point increase in import competition from top-wage rivals resulted in increased R&D expenditures of 7 percent, and 5 percent more patents. High-end competition is often so cutthroat, they say, that it motivates firms to be more innovative to stay ahead of the pack. Competition from low-wage countries is often not based on technology, but on cheap natural resources and labor — so it’s not an incentive to innovate.


As solar power gains traction and popularity, many homeowners and businesses are asking if it’s right for them. Now they can get answers from Mapdwell, an MIT spinout that is using satellite technology to map the rooftops of buildings in major American cities and provide solar cost-benefit analyses for each one. Users can click on each roof and find out the cost of installation, energy and financial savings, and potential environmental impact. Mapdwell gets its data from LiDAR-equipped planes that fly over cities and survey the urban topography, mapping buildings and terrain from the reflections of lasers. They add geographical and weather data into the mix, and can then provide a detailed 3D model of each roof’s layout. On its website, each roof is covered in colored dots that show the areas where solar panels can be installed, and the color range goes from the highest efficiency yields (bright yellow) to the least (brown). What affects a roof’s solar efficiency can vary — south-facing roofs are better prospects than north-facing ones, and trees and other types of shading can, of course, block sunlight. So far, Mapdwell has mapped eight cities, including New York, Boston and San Francisco. Overall, the company says, the results show that solar panels are a good investment for long-term homeowners. And its findings can also be used to convince municipalities to promote solar installations. Washington has 2 gigawatts (GW) of untapped solar capacity, San Francisco 3 GW and New York an eye-popping 11 GW. If the Big Apple met that capacity, Mapdwell says, the carbon emission offset would be equal to planting 185 million trees.




Social Appeal

Service activities may attract a more altruistic, broad-minded group to engineering.

By Kaitlin Litchfield and Amy Javernick-Will

Opportunities for engineers to combine technical and social facets of their profession have grown rapidly through avenues such as service learning, community development, and Engineers Without Borders. The population of engineers involved with these service activities appears more diverse in gender and interests than typically is found in engineering classrooms and workplaces. This difference in demographics has led some to propose that service activities offer a new solution for increasing participation and diversity within engineering. However, little research has been done to understand why this population of engineers seems more diverse.

To better understand why some engineers pursue service activities, our research compared the personal attributes of engineers involved in engineering service activities with those who were not involved. Career motivation theories, in particular Expectancy-Value Theory and Social Cognitive Career Theory, posit that career decisions are significantly influenced by personal attributes. Therefore, we compared two specific personal attributes of our populations of engineers: personality traits and motivations to study engineering.

We conducted interviews and focus groups with 165 engineering students and practicing engineers, and collected survey responses from over 2,000 participants. Our sample included both those with and without experience in Engineers Without Borders USA, a prominent U.S. engineering service organization. We combined variable-oriented qualitative analysis with multiple logistic regression models to compare the two groups.

Our results showed that engineers involved with service activities shared some similarities with other engineers. Based upon the five-factor model of personality traits, both groups of engineers expressed equivalent strengths in attributes that are common among engineers, specifically conscientiousness (i.e., being careful, organized) and emotional stability (i.e., being calm, secure). Both groups also expressed equally strong intrinsic motivations to study engineering.

There were notable differences between the two groups, however. Engineers involved with service activities expressed significantly stronger personality traits of agreeableness (i.e., being friendly, flexible) and openness to experience (i.e., being curious, broad-minded), two qualities that are not common among engineers. In addition, engineers involved with service activities expressed significantly higher altruistic motivations to study engineering. These results persisted even when controlling for demographic differences between the two groups. It appears that higher female participation, higher undergraduate grade-point average, and younger mean age among those involved with engineering service were not the sole factors for differences in personality traits and altruistic motivations.

Our findings indicate that engineering students and practitioners involved with service activities are similar to other engineers in important ways that fit public perceptions of engineers, namely, some personality traits and intrinsic motivations for the subject. These engineers share personal attributes of typical engineers. In addition, our findings indicate that engineers involved with service activities differ from other engineers in some personality traits and motivations.

These differences suggest that offering engineering service activities in engineering schools and workplaces may attract more diverse groups to engineering. These service activities also may help broaden participation in engineering beyond the traditional gender and ethnic categories to include individuals with more social interests and altruistic motivations.

Kaitlin Litchfield is a postdoctoral research assistant in the department of civil, environmental, and architectural engineering at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where Amy Javernick-Will is an assistant professor of civil engineering. This article is excerpted from “I Am an Engineer AND: A Mixed Methods Study of Socially Engaged Engineers” in the October 2015 Journal of Engineering Education. It is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation Grant 1129178.





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Members can vote by logging on to the ASEE website and clicking on the box that says: 2016 ASEE Board Elections.


The Engineering Research Council's annual conference will be held March 7-9 at the Sheraton Hotel in Silver Spring, Md. Visit this link to take advantage of discounted registration rates, which expire TOMORROW, Feb. 19. Click here to reserve your hotel room. Find more information, including a preliminary program, here.


The section, with members from Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont, as well as Eastern Canada, will hold its annual conference at the University of Rhode Island from Thursday, April 28th, 2016, to Saturday, April 30, 2016. The theme will be “Revolutionizing Engineering Education.” See the conference website. The student poster abstract deadline is March 1. Please encourage your undergraduate students to submit their capstone design projects, independent research projects, or other projects in a poster format. Graduate students can submit their project, thesis, or dissertation work as well in a poster format. Abstracts must be less than 1200 words.


New Navigation Section - Papers Management: The new section contains upcoming deadlines, guidelines, call for papers, and kits for authors, program chairs, reviewers, and moderators.

Author's Kits are Available: The 2016 Annual Conference Author's Kit - available on the website - contains extremely important information regarding the submission process as well as all relevant deadline dates.

THE ST. LAWRENCE SECTION CONFERENCE The section will be held at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., April 8-9, 2016. This year the conference will include several workshops. The calls for papers, presentations, posters and workshops as well as information about the Conference Program, Registration, and Hotel information is available on


Engineering educators sometimes have trouble regularly revising coursework to include the fundamentals of new technologies. This issue is to be reviewed during a panel discussion, “Education and Promotion of New Technologies,” at the Geotechnical Frontiers 2017 Conference in Orlando, Florida, March 12-15, 2017. The International Geosynthetic Society – North American Chapter is seeking panel members representing various technologies and-or materials who have had difficulty getting them incorporated into coursework. If you are interested in being on this panel, please contact Bob Mackey (407-475-9163;

A FACULTY WORKSHOP on Professional Skills Assessment will be held Saturday, April 16, 2016 at Penn State Berks. Researchers and educators will share their work on assessment and learn how to implement and use Peer Evaluation Assessment Resource (PEAR) software. This workshop is supported by a National Science Foundation (NSF) project called A Modular Assessment Framework for Professional Skills Using A Model of Domain Learning Approach. The workshop is free but space is limited. For more information and registration, please visit:

eGFI IS HERE: Help inspire the next generation of innovators with the all-new 6th edition of ASEE's prize-winning magazine for middle and high school students: eGFI (Engineering, Go For It). Filled with engaging features, gorgeous graphics, and useful information about engineering colleges and careers, eGFI aims to get teens fired up about learning—and doing—engineering. To purchase copies, go to For bulk purchases or other inquiries, contact or call 202-331-3500.






COVER: CRUSADERS - We profile engineers and educators whose research exposes official and corporate lapses and/or threats to public health and safety.

DRONE SAFETY: With more UAVs soon to be crowding our skies, what are engineers doing to protect life and limb?

TEACHING TOOLBOX: Effective teamwork is a key attribute of engineers, but group projects don’t always work as they should. Here’s how to avoid some of the pitfalls.




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