Amos and Darabi receive funding from NSF to study undergraduate engineering student career and degree program decision-making behavior


Donna Shubert

Choosing a college major is a complex decision problem. Delaying the decision can cause short and long-term financial burdens for students and significantly extend their time to graduation. Some students can make premature decisions without fully understanding a degree program or potential career opportunities, introducing a risk of attrition.

Bioengineering professor Jenny Amos (co-PI) and UIC colleague, professor Houshang Darabi (PI), aim to study how undergraduate engineering students make career and degree program decisions, which will inform the development of a decision support system.  The hypothesis is that as individuals gain more interest in an area, they seek to engage in the behavior more often and set goals relating to the activity. The positive reinforcement of the desired outcome and goal attainment makes the activity more rewarding, resulting in increased behavioral intention or planned behavior.

“We hope that by studying the reasons for major changes, we can help students make those decisions as early as possible so that they do not experience any academic delays or financial impact”, said Amos. 

The project team will collect student survey data including confidence in making career decisions, academic and career outcome expectations, and career exploratory behavior. The surveys will be conducted at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The results will guide the design of the decision support system, which will be based on engineering curricula descriptions and multiple public sources of career-related information. The system's effectiveness will be assessed in an introductory engineering course at both institutions. Project results will be disseminated to engineering educators through workshops at regional and national engineering education conferences.

The NSF IUSE: EHR Program supports research and development projects to improve the effectiveness of STEM education for all students. Through the Engaged Student Learning track, the program supports the creation, exploration, and implementation of promising practices and tools.