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A Course on Engineering and Society for First-year Engineering Students and Non-majors

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

FPD IV: Innovative Curriculum Elements of Successful First-year Courses

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.34.1 - 25.34.18



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Paper Authors


John C. Moosbrugger Clarkson University

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John C. Moosbrugger, Ph.D., is a professor of mechanical and aeronautical engineering and Associate Dean for Academic Programs for the Wallace H. Coulter School of Engineering at Clarkson University.

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Jan DeWaters Clarkson University

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Jan DeWaters, Ph.D., P.E., is an instructor in the Wallace H. Coulter School of Engineering at Clarkson University. She teaches introductory courses on energy issues and energy systems, and is part of the development team for Clarkson’s new first-year engineering/Interdisciplinary course called “Energy and Society.” Her research interests are in energy and engineering education.

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Melissa Carole Richards Clarkson University

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Melissa C. Richards, is an instructor and Academic Advisor for the Wallace H. Coulter School of Engineering and the Department of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering at Clarkson University.

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Elisabeth A. Chapman Clarkson University

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Elisabeth A. Chapman, B.S.E.E., M.S., M.B.A., is an instructor and first-year engineering studies Advisor for the Wallace H. Coulter School of Engineering at Clarkson University.

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A Course on Engineering and Society for First-Year Engineering Students and Non-MajorsA course has been developed with the twin goals of enhanced engagement of first-yearengineering students with engineering faculty and the field of engineering in general, as well asexposure of the engineering profession to non-majors. As designed and taught the course can beused to satisfy general curriculum requirements for both engineering and non-engineering majorsat this small, technologically-focused research university. The only prerequisite for the course isan introductory college-level mathematics course.To address the course goals and the targeted general curriculum outcomes, and to be approvedfor these requirements, the course includes the following learning outcomes, referring tounderstanding and abilities appropriate for first-year, post-secondary students: (1) students willdemonstrate an understanding of and an ability to use the engineering design process; (2)students will demonstrate an understanding of value systems and ethics and be able to relatethese concepts to professional problems; (3) students will demonstrate the ability to recognizeand analyze environmental, social, political, ethical, health and safety, and sustainabilityconsiderations and impacts of engineering design; (4) students will demonstrate an appreciationof the need for critical assessment of the sources of information, including computational tools,used to solve engineering design problems; (6) students will demonstrate an understanding of themajor engineering disciplines and be able to identify the core scientific disciplines underlyingthese; they will demonstrate an understanding of how the engineering profession intersects withthe sciences and mathematics.Topical coverage includes units on: history of engineering and technology, the relation of scienceand mathematics to engineering and technology; the engineering professions, value systems andengineering ethics, and the design process including a hands-on design project. Through selectedreadings the following concepts are addressed: positivism and social construction, informationsources, complexity, uncertainty and risk, control of technology, and business and economicforces with respect to the evolution and management of technology.A pilot course was taught in Spring 2011, with 34 students enrolled. A total of 190 students areenrolled in six sections of the course in Fall 2011. Classes are structured around facilitateddiscussions that focus largely on a selected number of case studies that demonstrate the stronginfluence of non-technical factors (economic limitations, societal resistance, the media,environmental concerns, governmental concerns) in engineering decision making. For example,students discuss the many factors – technical and non-technical – leading up to the disastrouslaunch of the Challenger Space Shuttle in 1986. This particular case study also serves as aplatform for exploring value systems and engineering ethics, engineering as a profession incontrast with other professions, and the importance of applying an iterative engineering designprocess for achieving a successful outcome. Similarly, the evolution of the nuclear powerindustry, which students read about and discuss in depth, is used to illustrate the host of non-technical factors that guide and shape the development of any technology. In addition to thereadings and in-class discussions, students work independently in groups of 3-5 to complete adesign project that immerses them in the design process and further demonstrates closeinteraction between technology and society. The Fall 2011 project assignment is to design andconstruct a snow shovel for use by an individual with only one arm.A post-course analysis of the pilot course mapped the general curriculum outcomes and ABETCriterion 3 Student Outcomes to specific exam questions and design project requirements. Withlarger numbers of students enrolled an assessment plan is in place to measure the degree towhich the course affects students’ perceptions of engineering studies and careers and theirpotential role in those careers. Students will complete pre- and post-course questionnaires thataddress the following specific topics: • Self-confidence in and motivation toward engineering studies; • Interest in studying/working in an engineering field; • Understanding of what an engineer does and how different engineering disciplines or specialties work together as well as with other professions; • Understanding of how engineering and engineering problem solving relates to societal, environmental, economic and ethical factors.Survey items use a 5-point Likert-type scale, with responses ranging from “strongly agree” (5) to“strongly disagree” (1). The responses will be analyzed using inferential statistics to measurechanges between the pre-and the post-survey. Direct assessment of student work on specificexam questions and the team design project will be performed to indicate the degree to whichcourse outcomes are achieved.

Moosbrugger, J. C., & DeWaters, J., & Richards, M. C., & Chapman, E. A. (2012, June), A Course on Engineering and Society for First-year Engineering Students and Non-majors Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--20794

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