Grit and its role in achievement among engineering students

Project No.
PI Name
John Chen
California Polytechnic State University

Abstract 1

Grit and its role in achievement among engineering students

Presentation Type
John C. Chen, California Polytechnic State University Karen J. McGaughey, California Polytechnic State University David S. Janzen, California Polytechnic State University Jennifer Teramoto Pedrotti, California Polytechnic State University James M. Widmann, California Polytechnic State University


The question motivating our study is why some students succeed in STEM programs while others, at least equal in talent and academic qualifications, do not. Why are intelligence and academic preparation not enough to guarantee success? These are critical questions because engineering programs, employers and other stakeholders would like to have more students succeed in attaining their degree. There is growing awareness that innate talent - i.e., IQ or intelligence - is neither the only nor the most important trait for predicting future success or a wide range of achievement outcomes in adults or younger populations from adolescents to university students. Many traits not directly related to knowledge acquisition have been shown conclusively to have a significant impact as well, including, for example, optimism, self-control, and self-esteem.


Recently, psychologists presented a new psychological construct they called モgritヤ, which is defined as passion and perseverance for long-term goals. In studies of several populations placed in a challenging environment, grit was found to predict the subjects' achievement. It is reasonable to posit, therefore, that grit is critically important to individuals trying to achieve the demanding, long-term goal of attaining an engineering degree. This study aims to explore the association of grit with engineering students' achievement, and to explore possible paths to building grit.


A longitudinal observational research design will be implemented to explore the questions of (1) what is the association between grit and student achievement, and (2) does a student's exposure to active learning pedagogies build grit? A cohort of 100 mechanical engineering and computer science students will be recruited as study participants over two years. The amount and quality of active learning they are exposed to individually will be tracked by a smartphone app being developed. In addition, their level of grit, other psychological traits, and achievement outcomes will be measured over time.


The project goals are to (1) develop a smartphone app to track the amount and quality of active learning a student experiences, (2) develop a model of student success as a function of the quantity and quality of active-learning experiences, and (3) quantify the relationship between active learning and grit growth. For this publication we will present the project progress to date and preliminary results of baseline data collected.

Broader Impacts

The ultimate goal of this project is to improve the retention and graduation rates of all STEM students, which in itself is a societal benefit with implications for the nation�s well-being. Furthermore, because women and underrepresented minorities leave STEM majors at disproportionately higher rates, improvements in retention and graduation for these groups will positively impact the makeup of the STEM workforce. A second broader impact of this project is that it adds to the nascent understanding of trait grit. Grit has received wide coverage in both the popular press and the scientific domain because of its promise for helping us understand an important facet of human behavior - the will to achieve and succeed. The findings from this project will help in understanding how to build grit in the specific context of using active learning in a STEM-learning environment. A third impact is that it adds to the broad research base regarding the benefits of active learning. While most previous research has focused on the knowledge-acquisition benefits of active learning, the proposed project adds to the much smaller research base about its psychological benefits.

Unexpected Challenges

None to date.


Chen, J.C., McGaughey, K.J., Janzen, D.S., Teramoto Pedrotti, J., and Widmann, J.M., モGrit and its role in achievement among engineering students,ヤ The 6th Research in Engineering Education Symposium, July 2015, Dublin, Ireland.