Freshman Engineering: Current Status and Potential for the Future
2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition Proceedings
This paper is an evidence based study of first-year engineering courses based on a number of interviews with course coordinators as well as a theoretical analysis of the problem of what first-year engineering students should know about the field of engineering. The one common denominator for first-year engineering courses is that they are all different. They range from a single class taught by a single professor in an engineering department to 2000 to 3000 students from an engineering college
... oken into a number of very large sections each year. The emphasis of these classes ranges from teaching a programming language to teaching design using a team environment to engineering analysis. Many times programming languages are a primary emphasis of these courses with a single platform or a combination of platforms being taught, including MATLAB, C, C++, Fortran, Excel, visual basic, Java and Python. There is clearly no consensus on what or how first-year engineering students should be taught. By examining the goals of these courses we can better understand how the current state evolved and where we can go from here. The goals of these course in general involve preparing the first-year student for the remainder of their academic and professional career and take the form of teaching students what engineering really is and why it is important to society, how to work in teams, how to implement design, how to program a computer, how to solve engineering equations, how to solve engineering problems and how to develop models. While these are noble goals, most students fail to understand the significance of what they have been exposed to and how it relates to the courses that they will be taking in their sophomore, junior and senior years. Moreover, the emphasis of these courses can distort the student's perspective of what engineering is, e.g., many times the students that take classes that primarily emphasize design leave these classes thinking that design is all that engineers do. To the professor that understands the full extent of design, the design experiences in these classes are perfectly logical, but the uninitiated student lacks the overall perspective to appreciate what they have been exposed to. Based on my interviews, I did not find a single first-year course that provided a balanced view of engineering and a structure with which a student could organize their academic and industrial training and meeting this need is the objective of this paper. Based on this perspective, we will examine the full range of engineering fundamentals (i.e., ethics, problem solving, modeling, analysis, design, economics and communications) in an effort to layout an approach that prepares first-year students for their future careers in a manner that is consistent with their current knowledge and experience (i.e. high school math and science). That is, in a general sense engineering reduces to either engineering analysis or engineering design both of which rely on problem solving and modeling. Engineering economics provides a means to consistently evaluate the performance of an engineering project by using optimization while engineering communications allows for the effective dissimilation of the engineer's results. Finally, engineering ethics provides a means for navigating complex legal, social and ethical issues. Moreover, we will demonstrate how this approach can be applied and still expose the student to teamwork, design, programming, etc. This approach provides a simple, but powerful structure with which to understand engineering and its practice. In this manner, the student will be able to understand how each class that they take in the future relates to their overall goal of becoming a successful engineer and after they graduate and become practicing engineers, they can continue to effectively use this structure to build they base of knowledge.