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Analyzing the Effectiveness of Competition and Interdisciplinary Teams in Student Learning

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

High-impact Learning Practices

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

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Paper Authors


Aaron T. Hill Jr. United States Military Academy

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Colonel Aaron Hill is an Assistant Professor and Design Group Director in the Department of Civil & Mechanical Engineering at the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from West Point, a Master of Science degree in Engineering Management from Missouri S&T, a Master of Science degree in Civil Engineering from Virginia Tech, and a PhD in Civil Engineering from The University of Texas at Austin. Aaron has served in the military for 23 years as an Engineer Officer with assignments around the world to include Afghanistan, Egypt, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. He is a licensed professional engineer in Virginia and a Project Management Professional. Aaron’s primary areas of research are engineering education, the behavior of steel structures, and blast. Aaron mentors students by serving as an advisor for capstone projects and through service as an Officer Representative for Women’s Volleyball and Men’s Basketball. His passion for teaching and developing tomorrow’s leaders resulted in his selection in 2009 for the American Society of Civil Engineers New Faculty Excellence in Teaching Award and the 2013 Outstanding Young Alumni Award for the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech.

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Kevin P. Arnett P.E. United States Military Academy

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LTC Kevin Arnett is a fourth year instructor at the US Military Academy. He received his B.S. in Civil Engineering from USMA in 2001, his M.S. Civil Engineering from U.C. Berkeley in 2011, and his PhD in Structural Engineering from UCSD in 2019. He teaches structural analysis and design of steel structures, and is a licensed Professional Engineer in California and Missouri.

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Cosme Alejandro Lopez Jr.

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James Anthony Baglino United States Military Academy

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Nicholas Perovich United States Military Academy

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Adriel Evan Moran

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Adam Thomas Hebert United States Military Academy

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Anthony Bradley United States Military Academy

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Competition is meant to incentivize optimization within the world of engineering. In most situations, when engineering companies are bidding for a project to be completed, their goal is to optimize and make the most cost-effective product for the customer. The AISC Steel Bridge Competition is such a project. By normalizing for past performance and comparing the long-term performance of cadets who did capstones involving student competitions versus those who did not, the overall effectiveness of these academic endeavors may be estimated. Through the incorporation of multidisciplinary objectives stemming from the involvement of cadets with a major background other than civil engineering participating in a historically civil engineering dominated capstone, educational advantages, and broadened perspectives can be provided, and GroupThink can be avoided. In addition, through the analysis of functionality between interdisciplinary versus non-interdisciplinary groups, the overall level of student learning is enhanced. The West Point Steel Bridge Design Team is a group of six undergraduate seniors working on designing and building a steel bridge for the annual American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) Student Steel Bridge Competition. This comprehensive competition in which students must design, fabricate, erect, and test a steel bridge has provided a unique opportunity for undergraduate students to broaden their understanding of real-world engineering issues. The ability of a student team to follow detailed rules, understand and apply effective project management, and optimize the bridge’s strength, stiffness, and cost for a client provides opportunities for both student learning and assessment of their learning. Historically, student teams that have competed in the Steel Bridge Competition have done so solely with civil engineer majors. Motivated by a desire to demonstrate excellence at the competition and to improve student learning, West Point’s Steel Bridge teams have adopted an interdisciplinary approach by incorporating a law major and a systems engineer major into the team over the past two years, respectively. Building off of the successes and lessons learned from these recent experiences, the West Point 2020 Steel Bridge Team once again adopted an interdisciplinary approach, with five student majoring in civil engineering and one student majoring in operations research. Given that few real-world engineering projects are completed without the utilization of multiple disciplines, the inclusion of students with different areas of expertise allows them to learn from each other while taking advantage of each other’s strengths. While West Point’s 2020 Steel Bridge team is not the first in-depth undergraduate interdisciplinary project, the effectiveness of such projects within the context of competition is largely unexplored. Surveys of recent graduates will serve as the primary assessment tool for the effectiveness of interdisciplinary versus non-interdisciplinary teams and competition versus non-competition teams. The authors will assess both the impact of student competitions on learning and the impact of interdisciplinary teams on the learning and effectiveness of competition teams. Additional assessment tools will include competition scores and feedback received from faculty members based on the performance of the 2020 West Point Steel Bridge Team.

Hill, A. T., & Arnett, K. P., & Lopez, C. A., & Baglino, J. A., & Perovich, N., & Moran, A. E., & Hebert, A. T., & Bradley, A. (2020, June), Analyzing the Effectiveness of Competition and Interdisciplinary Teams in Student Learning Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34151

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