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An Innovative Approach to the Fundamentals of Engineering Course

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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

Arduinos, Microcontrollers, Inexpensive Robotics, and Other Tech Bytes

Tagged Division

Two Year College Division

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.168.1 - 25.168.21

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Paper Authors


Arthur F. Garcia Jr. P.E. Palm Beach State College

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Arthur F. Garcia, Jr., has been teaching on college campuses since 2000. He taught intermediate algebra and trigonometry at Montgomery College in Maryland prior to moving to Florida in 2002. Since the fall of 2002, he has been an Adjunct Instructor at Palm Beach State College, where he began as an instructor of pre-college algebra classes. In addition, he has taught algebra, statistics and a course on entrepreneurship at Northwood University in Palm Beach county (from 2002 to 2005). Since the Fall term of 2005, he has been teaching Introduction to Engineering (EGN 1002) at Palm Beach State College exclusively. After his college graduation in 1966, Garcia had a rewarding career in engineering and in business prior to retiring in early 2000. He used computers extensively throughout his career as a tool for solving engineering problems and for solving business problems as well. In 1986, he founded GCI Information Services, Inc. (originally Garcia Consulting, Inc.), with a staff of only four employees and with the objective of offering specialty engineering services to the Naval Sea Systems Command (U.S. Navy) in Arlington, Va. Over the following 13 years, Garcia expanded his Virginia-based company to offer information services as well as engineering services, which led to a dramatic growth of his company as it met an emerging new demand for information services. As a consequence of this dramatic growth, GCI Information Services received a number of outstanding small business awards including the FastTrack Award in 1996 and 1997 and a Fast 50 Award in 1997. Garcia was a finalist in the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 1997 and 1998. Garcia was interviewed as a featured entrepreneur on the Building America television show which aired on CBS in Nov. 1997, and again in June 1998. This program featured fast growing and high technology companies as examples of successful entrepreneurial small businesses. By the end of 1999, GCI Information Services had more than 300 employees in 20 states and an office in London, England. During that year, Garcia had been approached by other companies interested in acquiring GCI Information Services, which led to his selling the company by the end of the year. The acquisition of his company was completed in Jan. 2000, and Garcia retired shortly afterwards. Prior to starting his own business, Garcia had 20 years of engineering experience. He initially worked for the U.S. Department of the Navy upon graduating from college in 1966 and into the 1970s. He wrote extensively on many technical topics and developed a number of computer programs (in Fortran and Basic languages) for designing various mechanical systems for ship propulsion systems and other special mechanical systems, as well. During the energy crisis years of the mid-1970s and early 1980s, he worked on energy research projects for several companies. Garcia was awarded his P.E. license in the state of Maryland in 1984. He received his M.S. degree in mechanical engineering from George Washington University (Washington, D.C.) in 1979. He graduated from the University of Texas (Austin) in 1966 with a B.S. in mechanical engineering. He received his A.A. from San Antonio (Junior) College in 1963 and graduated from Douglas MacArthur High School in San Antonio in 1961.

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An Innovative Approach to the Fundamentals of Engineering Course For incoming freshman and sophomores, colleges offer a “Fundamentals of Engineering”course. This course is generally an opportunity to motivate the incoming engineering students tocommit to engineering as a career. Most students have some uncertainties in pursuingengineering. Some incoming students are more mature than others and more mentally preparedfor the rigor and discipline of engineering courses. With an encouraging preparation in theFundamentals course, more of the maturing students can be motivated to excel in their junior andsenior level courses. A well structured Foundations course will appeal to the entering student’sneed to foresee his or her future career in engineering. At one college in Florida, theFoundations course is designed to: Assign each student a ten minute Powerpoint presentation on a famous engineer. Require the use the electronic spreadsheet as a tool for solving engineering problems.Each class begins with two famous engineer presentations so that by the middle of the term allstudents have made their presentations. Students select engineers such as Gustav Eiffel, NikolaTesla, Burt Rutan, and many others from the past as well as currently famous engineers.Through these presentations, the students become more acquainted with a wide range ofengineering disciplines and thereby enable students to select or to confirm the pursuit a particulardiscipline. The experience also builds self-confidence as they picture themselves making atechnical presentation to an engineering board. The Fundamentals course is taught in a “smart classroom” with twenty four computers,one for each student, and an instructor’s computer connected to a projector. Each computer isloaded with spreadsheet, word processing and presentation software as well as with a Blackboard(class intranet) connection. In a typical lecture, all students are sent a template through theBlackboard connection. The template is an assignment such as “Project 3.1 on Static Loads”which will be a spreadsheet file that has four to ten related problems defined. Each student mustsolve all problems of Project 3.1 using spreadsheet functions. Within three days of receiving theassignment, the solutions are posted in “pdf format” on Blackboard so that students can compareand correct their solutions. On major tests (there are four) and on the final exam, template filesare sent to the students who then solve the problems using spreadsheet functions. At the end ofthe class the test files are sent to the instructor through Blackboard. After all of the completedtest files are graded, they are returned to each respective student through Blackboard. All fileexchanges and all class instructional materials are processed through Blackboard. The course isvirtually paperless. All students who have completed the course have commented that the course is verydemanding but they feel that it has prepared them well for the higher level engineering courses.They are very self-confident and are highly motivated to conquer the engineering courses theywill be taking after Fundamentals.

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