Design experiences are a critical component of undergraduate STEM education, as they challenge students both academically and socially. The goal of this study is to investigate how previous design experiences and engineering design self-efficacy impact project outcomes for a Hackathon style design project. This early-phase exploratory study observes first-year students in STEM-focused disciplines as they complete a six-hour ‘Hackathon’ style event. The Hackathon serves as the final requirement for the students’ interdisciplinary cornerstone design course. In this study, student demographics, K-12 prior experiences, and engineering design self-efficacy, were collected to understand how these different factors may influence student success throughout the Hackathon. The project is deemed a ‘Hackathon’ due to the problem-focus task given to the student participants and the variety of STEM skills required to arrive at a successful project outcome and a positive student learning experience.

The results of the study show significant correlation between the students’ prior exposure to design and engineering content before their undergraduate studies. Significant correlations were also observed between design self-efficacy factors and success in the Hackathon (measured through time of completion at various points). These findings have the potential to influence design pedagogy and team assignment criteria for future iterations of this cornerstone course and other curricular content focused on the engineering design process. The results of this study set the foundation for future work aimed at understanding our first-year engineering students’ prior design experiences and preparing them for academic success during undergraduate education. An extension of this work is planned that will facilitate longitudinal comparisons of achievement and progress across a four-year design experience.

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