Date of Award

Fall 2009

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Michael J Middleton


Student motivation is often related to perceptions of the learning environment, making the transition from high school to college a critical period as students adjust to new learning environments. It is also a critical time for engineering programs as high-achieving students who drop out of engineering during this period are not likely to be replaced.

A web-based survey including nine scales assessing personal motivation, perceived classroom goal structures, and academic related beliefs and behaviors was administered to eighty-eight students who participated at two time points---the end of senior year in high school and the end of the first semester in college. These students were defined as high achieving; scoring in the 90th percentile on the Math I SAT test and earning an "A" in the high school class that best represented their knowledge and experience of engineering.

Respondents reported higher mastery goal orientation scores than performance goals (approach and avoidance) in high school and college. They also perceived their engineering classrooms as promoting mastery goals over performance goals.

As predicted, students' perceptions of the classroom environment were related to personal goal orientation. Mastery orientation in students was positively correlated to classrooms perceived as promoting mastery goals; in addition, there was a significant negative correlation between perceptions of mastery orientation in college engineering classrooms and personal performance goals.

Performance orientation was associated with self-handicapping and avoiding academic novelty in high school and college. Both men and women in this high-achieving sample reported on average a significant drop in self-efficacy scores and an increase in avoiding academic novelty scores during the high school to college transition.

This study underscores the importance of studying student motivation across dynamic school transitions and the relationship between students' motivation and classroom climate. The transition into college may involve threats to high-achieving students' motivation. The low response rate in the study highlights the need for traditional forms of contact for follow-up such as phone calls and post cards when doing a longitudinal web-based survey.