Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Engineering Education

Committee Chair(s)

Angela Minichiello


Angela Minichiello


Thomas Fronk


Oenardi Lawanto


Joshua Marquit


Cassandra McCall


Whether they occur inside or outside the classroom, social interactions between undergraduate students play a key role in student success. As a result, engineering education researchers have sought to understand why students interact with certain peers, and which types of interactions relate to positive student outcomes. While existing studies show promising results for formal group assignments, most have been conducted in a single undergraduate course. Because important student interactions occur outside and inside courses, more research is needed to fully understand (a) why students choose to, or not to, interact with other students, and (b) how these interactions relate to student's academic outcomes within their engineering major. With new understandings, engineering educators will be better able to promote positive and lasting relationships between students.

To contribute to this body of research, this dissertation study aimed to identify and analyze interactions occurring between undergraduate engineering students during the first two years of their degree programs. To identify peer interactions, I surveyed all first- and second-year engineering students at the study institution. To quantitatively analyze resultant interaction "networks," I applied a method called social network analysis to mathematically describe interactions between individuals. Using social network analysis techniques, I statistically compared student interactions and their academic outcomes of engineering GPA and retention in the major.

Along with social network analysis, I conducted focus group interviews and analyzed the resultant qualitative data to understand (a) why students choose to, or not to, interact with their peers, and (b) how these students perceive their interactions impacting their academic outcomes. Each analysis (i.e., quantitative and qualitative) informed the overall conclusion(s) for this dissertation study. Apart from developing methods for future engineering education researchers, results of this study include identifying significant relationships between undergraduate engineering students' interaction network size and outcomes, and a model of undergraduate student peer network formation and evolution. Ultimately, these findings will assist engineering educators in promoting positive and lasting relationships between their students.