Mathematical maturity for engineering students: NSF project summary

Brian E. Faulkner, Geoffrey L. Herman, Dong San Choi, Nicole Johnson-Glauch

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


Progress through standard mathematics coursework represents a major barrier to engineering student graduation rates. Long prerequisite chains of mathematics courses have high failure rates, and must be passed to enter engineering coursework. This project aimed to investigate the mathematical expectations of engineering faculty, particularly the ambiguous quality of “mathematical maturity” seen in some engineering-mathematics education research during interviews or workshops. This research aims to create a better understanding of how engineering faculty perceive the mathematical needs of their students. Interviews with thirty four engineering faculty members at seven institutions revealed common themes across disciplines and institution types. Engineering faculty members stressed the importance of students' ability to apply mathematics to the physical domain. Engineering faculty stressed the need for students to be able to flexibly represent physical entities in a variety of symbolic and graphical forms. They claimed that the ubiquity of computers changes where students mathematical training should focus its emphasis. The course artifact analysis uncovered substantial mismatch between the mathematics that is taught in calculus courses and how that mathematics is called upon in introductory core engineering courses. Only 8% of homework problems in engineering statics and 20% in circuits used calculus of any kind. What calculus did get used on engineering homework assignments was usually the simplest examples such as polynomials and exponentials. One round of survey data has been collected, investigating student beliefs about mathematics. This first round used two existing instruments from the literature to probe student beliefs about how relevant mathematics was to their engineering studies. Initial results show moderate beliefs in the relevance of mathematics by sophomore engineering students.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Jun 15 2019
Event126th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition: Charged Up for the Next 125 Years, ASEE 2019 - Tampa, United States
Duration: Jun 15 2019Jun 19 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Engineering


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