An Ecosystem to Support Sense-Making, Identity Formation, and Belonging for First-Year Engineering Students


While purposefully engaging first-year engineering students has become a common approach to help them succeed through challenging transitions, no single intervention is likely to prove meaningful for all. Providing a variety of both optional and required learning experiences can create an ecosystem of support by connecting students to their peers, near-peers, academic advisors, and engineering faculty. Ultimately, a nurturing ecosystem might shift student success by cultivating an understanding of engineering expectations and opportunities (i.e., sensemaking), gaining an emerging awareness of professional self and program culture (i.e., identity formation), and fostering connections to their engineering institution (i.e., belonging). Another reason to invest in these efforts is to demonstrate a commitment to student well-being, in other words that the program “walks the talk” as a place concerned with undergraduate professional development through a supportive community. Such efforts may also benefit student decisionmaking before, during, and after college.

This paper describes the goals, structures, resources, and outcomes of the first-year engineering ecosystem that aims to provide reinforcing support at James Madison University (JMU). While this ecosystem includes one engineering course in both the Fall semester and Spring semesters, this article focuses on four key co-curricular offerings for Madison Engineering (MADE).

First Year Engineering Experience (FYEE) Conference