Improving Undergraduate Success through Effective Critical Thinking (iUSE-CT)

Stephanie Wendt
Associate Professor
Associate Professor of Teacher Education

Data for engineering programs across the country indicates a large gap between first-year retention rates and graduation rates for engineering students placing graduation success at an average of only 47%. A team of researchers at Tennessee Technological University (TTU) hypothesizes that engineering student retention and graduation rates can be improved by training students to be better critical thinkers. The program, referred to as iUSE-CT (Improving Undergraduate Success through Effective Critical Thinking), leverages the existing extensive contributions of TTU faculty to the development of the Critical Thinking Assessment Test (CAT) and associated training pedagogies. The team is engaging a cohort of first-term freshman in Chemical and Electrical and Computer Engineering (CHE and ECE) in rigorous critical thinking activities and assessing the efficacy to improve their CT skills and first-year retention rates. The experimental design includes a second treatment point in the sophomore year, a control cohort and replication with a second cohort of students to being in 2023. The students will be tracked through to graduation in an effort to establish data on both first-year retention and graduation rates. We anticipate that this study will provide evidence for or against the efficacy of deliberate critical thinking training on student success to graduation in engineering. The team plans to broadly disseminate the findings and to pilot a regional outreach to high schools in middle-Tennessee focused on the development of critical thinking modules for pre-college students.


T. Majors, Tennessee Tech University, Cookeville, TN; J. J. Biernacki, Tennessee Tech University, Cookeville, TN; I. Bhattacharya, Tennessee Tech University, Cookeville, TN; and L. Weathers, Tennessee Tech University, Cookeville, TN