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A Freshman Course In Chemical Engineering: Merging First Year Experiences With Discipline Specific Needs

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

ChE: Departmental Issues and Integrating Freshmen into the ChE Program

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.45.1 - 11.45.12



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Paper Authors


Pedro Arce Tennessee Technological University Orcid 16x16

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Pedro E. Arce is a Professor of Chemical Engineering and Chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering At Tennessee Tech University. Dr. Arce is strong advocate of modernization of engineering instructional methods where he focuses on active and collaborative learning environments. He has developed a number of learning models including the Colloquial Approach, The Coaching Model of Instruction, and the Hi-PeLE, among others. His research interest focus on Electrokinetics-Hydrodynamics including Cold Plasma High Oxidation Methods, Nano-structure Soft Materials for bio-separation and drug delivery, and bio-remediation of soils.

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Donald Visco Tennessee Technological University

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Donald P. Visco, Jr. is an Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering and Undergraduate Program Coordinator at Tennessee Technological University. He received his Ph. D. in 1999 from the University at Buffalo, SUNY. His research focuses on molecular design for the chemical process and pharmaceutical industries.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

A Freshman Course in Chemical Engineering: Merging First-Year Experiences with Discipline-Specific Needs

Abstract In many engineering curriculums, the first opportunity for students to become acquainted with their discipline is in the sophomore or junior years. While such an approach allows for general freshman and/or sophomore engineering classes, it creates other problems as well as misses several opportunities. At our university, we have designed a 1-credit class for first semester freshman enrolled in chemical engineering. This course, which was designed with much student input, includes a variety of areas such as: (1) time management, (2) departmental indoctrination, (3) meeting the faculty, (4) how do all the courses fit into the curriculum, (5) hands-on experimentation, (6) what chemical engineers do in practice and (7) student research opportunities Such a course looks to cultivate the intrinsic interest that students have in this area while addressing issues which are important in sustaining these students to graduation. In this paper, we discuss the lessons learned from this course as well as provide assessment information for use in future offerings.

Student assessment of this course indicated that, on average, the course was effective at reaching the stated goals (score of 4.2 out of 5.0). Each class session itself was assessed by the students. The top performers were the three “hands-on” experiments that were performed. In a students’ comments section of the assessment, it was emphasized that more “hands-on” work should be included when this course is offered next semester. While it is too early to determine if this course was effective from a retention standpoint, anecdotal information suggests a substantial reduction in the number of students transferring out of chemical engineering this year (so far) relative to last year.

Introduction and Motivation

Students enter into chemical engineering (and STEM disciplines, in general) for a wide-variety of reasons: they like science, are good at math, want to make good money, have a parent who works in a STEM field, etc. Invariably, a percentage of these students do not sustain to graduate in the discipline they declared upon entering college. While in some circumstances the reasons for this can be considered reasonable (re: really wanted to be an English or a business major), in other situations the explanations provided for dropping from a particular curriculum are, at best, ill- informed (re: must work in an office all day). The later issue is a major problem since it is often a difficult task to “educate” a student on all that STEM (or, in this case, chemical engineering) has to offer after they have made the decision to switch majors.

In the Fall of 2004, the Chemical Engineering Department at Tennessee Technological University had eight of 30 chemical engineering freshman students drop out of chemical engineering. While this percentage may or may not be alarming, subsequent “exit” interviews with one of us revealed that several of the students were leaving for reasons that can only be described as “ill-informed”. Comments ranged from “I want to do biochemical engineering and think that a B.S. in biology would be better” to “I don’t want to build robots”. Clearly, there was a misinformation problem with these students and, therefore, misconceptions among students developed. And, as

Arce, P., & Visco, D. (2006, June), A Freshman Course In Chemical Engineering: Merging First Year Experiences With Discipline Specific Needs Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--623

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