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Adopting A Success Strategy For First Year Engineering Students Enrolled In Pre Calculus

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

FPD8 - Early Intervention & Retention

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.156.1 - 13.156.9



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Paper Authors


Gretchen Hein Michigan Technological University

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Gretchen Hein is a senior lecturer in the Department of Engineering Fundamentals at Michigan Tech. As such, she has developed various course materials for all of the first year engineering classes. She has developed and taught an upper division Thermo/Fluids class for non-mechanical engineering students.

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Amber Kemppainen Michigan Technological University

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Amber Kemppainen is a lecturer in the Department of Engineering Fundamentals at Michigan Tech. She has been active in course development and the implementation of WebCT into her courses and throughout the department.

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

Adopting a Success Strategy for First Year Engineering Students Enrolled in Pre-Calculus


In 2000, Michigan Technological University switched to a common first-year engineering program that was designed for students who were Calculus ready. Unfortunately, approximately 250 first-year engineering students (out of 1000) were not prepared to take Calculus when they entered the university. Consequently, these students had no engineering course their first semester. In 2001, an engineering course that paralleled the course material in Pre-Calculus was piloted. This course improved the retention of these students and evolved into a two semester course sequence for all engineering students starting in Pre-Calculus. Over the past two years, there has been a change in the students taking this course. The math background of these students has proven to be extremely variable and the existing courses no longer met the needs of these students. Many of these students also lacked experience using engineering tools (i.e. Spreadsheets, VBA, etc.). As such, the courses were redesigned in the summer of 2007. Previously, the courses have focused on a range of engineering software and communication tools that the students need to succeed in their upper division courses. The number of topics covered and the variety between them caused a great deal of discontinuity in the course material. Therefore, the new structure emphasizes subjects where engineering tools are used to solve or disseminate the course material in modules that are interrelated and reinforced throughout the course. In the first course, three subject modules were created for this purpose: • Engineering Design and Analysis • Engineering Ethics • Engineering Sustainability

In the first course, students will use engineering skills such as the problem solving method and statistical analyses while completing design activities. They will analyze and communicate their results in a technical poster competition. The second course builds on previously learned skills with the addition of technical presentations incorporating sustainability concepts and a semester long design project. Students will design a “safe” snowball launcher and create a 3-D model of their concept using Unigraphics. They will analyze the mathematics and physics of their launcher using Excel and Visual Basic programming. Throughout the project, students will communicate their design progress in memos and a final report.

This paper will describe in more detail the design and structure of the two courses, along with the history of their development. Data will be presented on how the inclusion of engineering courses for these students has improved their retention. Student comments and instructor observations of the new course structure will be included.


For the past seven years, Michigan Technological University has had a common first year engineering program.1 To meet the needs of the entering engineering students, this program provides two tracks: Calculus ready students and students enrolled in Pre-Calculus. Entering first year students are placed in Calculus of Pre-Calculus based on their ACT or SAT score. Table 1

Hein, G., & Kemppainen, A. (2008, June), Adopting A Success Strategy For First Year Engineering Students Enrolled In Pre Calculus Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3261

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