Transitioning to university: the engineering students’ struggle
Savins, M & Lake, N 2016, 'Transitioning to university: the engineering students’ struggle', in ST Smith, YY Lim, A Bahadori, N Lake, R Vasquez Padilla, A Rose & K Doust (eds), Proceedings of the 27th Australasian Association for Engineering Education Conference, Coffs Harbour, 4-7 December, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW. ISBN: 9780994152046
BACKGROUND As students transition to university study at undergraduate level they can experience numerous opportunities and challenges, both from a personal and academic perspective. Although each student will bring with them varying levels of mastery of the necessary generic study skills and techniques to deal with stress, making students aware of these skills and the importance of developing them is critical. Often within a first year context, these skills are assumed knowledge and are not specifically addressed. Potentially this is a large gap in engineering education affecting the transition experience of students into university and the retention of first year students who experience the effects of stress.
PURPOSE The purpose of this paper is to assess the effectiveness of a first year engineering program designed and delivered to address any shortfall in generic academic skill capability and expand the students’ personal awareness as a way to achieve a more stress-free transition to university studies.
APPROACH The True You program is a nine week, 15 minute block pilot program that delivers a range of topics to support engineering students in their first year, including lecture materials, student engagement activities and facilitated discussions. The program is designed to support students to further develop generic academic skills and learn techniques that allow them to connect more deeply with themselves and their body, as a way to potentially achieve a more stress-free student experience. Both a qualitative and quantitative approach has been adopted using an anonymous survey instrument as the primary tool to collect information about the student experience which is then analysed in light of the literature and the collective reflections of the presenter and observers of the program.
RESULTS Almost three-quarters (73%) of the students stated the True-You Model felt personally true for them and 90% found the program useful as a first-year engineering student. A majority of students indicated resonating with the techniques aimed to support conscious presence in order to deal more effectively with stress, with ‘failing a unit’ the primary stressor. Although the sessions around academic study skills and self-care practices were deemed supportive, the real learning and adjustments to tertiary education will not necessarily be realised until the end of the first session, hence a flexible approach that supports the adaptation to university life may always be required.
CONCLUSIONS There is great difficulty in the first year aligning students’ expectations to the realities of the student experience including the study workload and stresses that present along the way. Whilst programs such as the True-You Program can raise awareness and provide practical support to students on the realities of tertiary education, many will not be saved from the stresses and strains until they have endured the university experience for themselves. Survey results and student comments suggest the program was successful in providing support in a practical way for students transitioning to university. Whilst universities must ensure their expectations of students are reasonable and that the environment supports learning and student wellbeing, students have joint responsibility to do the academic work necessary to meet the demands of the degree and engage in healthy lifestyle practices that support themselves to succeed in a high stress environment.