Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.

Department (Legacy)

Department of Leadership, Foundations, and Human Resource Education

Committee Chair

Stone, James R.

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Pearson, Donna

Committee Member

Tretter, Thomas

Committee Member

Ralston, Patricia


This study was part of an ongoing effort to improve retention of engineering students at the J. B. Speed School of Engineering at the University of Louisville. The purpose of this study was twofold: (1) to gain a better understanding of the relationship among interest in engineering, performance and first-year retention in engineering, and whether this relationship is different for males and females, and (2) to better understand the relationship among self-control, academic ability and first semester GPA for engineering students. To address the first research question investigating retention, survey responses and data from student records were analyzed using logistic regression. Results of these analyses showed students who indicated they had very high interest in engineering were 43 times more likely to be retained than students who indicated very low interest, and 6 times more likely than a student who indicated they had low to medium interest, given the same GPA. There was not a significant difference in the probability of being retained for students who indicated they had high or very high interest, given the same GPA. Results also showed that a one point increase in GPA increased the likelihood of a student being retained by 4.6 times, given the same level of interest. Based on these results, the Step-outs to Stars engineering retention framework was created. Students were separated into four quadrants based on their level of interest and first semester GPA. The framework can be used as a mechanism to allocate resources targeted to improve engineering retention and to frame future research on engineering retention. Structural equation modeling was used to analyze survey and student data to answer the second research question related to first semester performance of engineering students. In the study academic ability was measured by algebra readiness test scores and ACT math, science, English and reading scores. Self-control was measured by self-reported scores on the Brief Self-Control Scale (Tangney, Baumeister, & Boone, 2004). Results confirmed prior research, which found a significant positive relationship between self-control and academic performance, and a lack of significance between self-control and standardized test scores. These results can be used to strengthen the argument for programs to help improve self-control in K-12 and post-secondary students. The results can also be used to help prospective and current engineering students understand that higher levels of self-control might improve their academic performance in engineering.