Theses and Dissertations


Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


Smith, Brian K.

Committee Member

Strawderman, Lesley

Committee Member

Johnson, Jenna

Committee Member

Mohammadi-Aragh, Mahnas J.

Date of Degree


Document Type

Dissertation - Campus Access Only


Industrial and Systems Engineering

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)


James Worth Bagley College of Engineering


Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering


Engineering undergraduate students have opinions and perceptions of engineering disciplines and engineering undergraduate students do not always matriculate and graduate in precisely the same discipline. Understanding how these two characteristics of engineering undergraduate students interact to inform behaviors is important for engineering educators and administrators to increase and improve recruitment and retention among their students.

This dissertation approached each characteristic of engineering students, first separately and then together. A nationwide survey of undergraduate engineering students found significant differences in how students perceive various engineering disciplines along several paired-term anchored scales. These differences were equally significant when scores were considered in terms of discipline-membership. Membership was found to lead to higher scores for Difficulty and Friendliness compared to scores of non-members for any given specific discipline.

Using historical data, transfer paths of students into, out of, or within engineering were identified by frequency of occurrence as either the origin of a transfer or the destination of a transfer. Industrial Engineering was found to be considerably more frequently experienced as a destination of transfers, regardless of whether the origin degree program was another engineering discipline or from outside of engineering. Conversely, Aerospace Engineering was considerably more frequently experienced as an origin of transfers. Additionally, the transfer path relationship between Computer Engineering and Electrical Engineering was investigated.

Combining these two characteristics of engineering students—that of having opinions of engineering disciplines and that of having the potential to transfer between degree programs— an ethnographic research methodology was implemented. Factors unrelated to grade performance were identified as common program-change instigators, including personal interest considerations and predicted career opportunities.

Ultimately, this dissertation contributes to an understanding of how perceptions of engineering disciplines and degree program transfer behavior affects undergraduate engineering student experiences.