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Building Engineering Literate Non Engineers

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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

Engineering for Nonengineers: Ideas & Results

Tagged Division

Technological Literacy Constituent Committee

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.266.1 - 13.266.8

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Paper Authors

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Deborah Mechtel U.S. Naval Academy

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Andrew McCue U.S. Naval Academy

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Keith Kintzley U.S. Naval Academy

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Robert Voigt U.S. Naval Academy

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

Building Engineering Literate Non-Engineers


All students at the United States Naval Academy, regardless of major, must take two electrical engineering courses. The course topics include circuit theory, motors, generators, three-phase power distribution systems, communication systems, digital logic, and computer networks. These courses are taught to more than 600 non-engineering students each year. A different course sequence is used for ABET accredited majors.

This paper presents the approach used by the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at the Naval Academy to improve the technological literacy of non- engineering students. Electrical engineering fundamentals and applications are emphasized with the relevant mathematics introduced as needed. Applications of the fundamentals evolve to stress the relevance of a particular topic area. Key technical concepts are reinforced with practical laboratory exercises. The final practical exercise takes place aboard a Naval Academy patrol craft. The students explore the electrical systems on the ship and relate them to the fundamentals studied during the semester.

Course outcomes show that students across a range of majors can attain a level of knowledge that appreciably increases their engineering technological literacy. In addition, there is considerable improvement in their problem solving and critical thinking skills. The courses, including sample laboratory exercises, are reviewed. Student reaction to the courses as well as achieved results is presented along with suggestions for successful implementation at other institutions.


Technological literacy, as defined in the report1 by the National Academy of Engineering and the National Engineering Council, has three components: knowledge, ways of thinking and acting, and capabilities. The Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at the United States Naval Academy improves the engineering literacy of students with majors as diverse as English, Political Science, Economics, Mathematics and Chemistry by offering a two course overview of fundamental Electrical Engineering topics. The goal of this course sequence is not to train engineers, but to introduce students to the language and concepts of electrical engineering so that they are effective in their role as future Navy or Marine Corps Officers. An additional goal is an improvement in their problem solving and critical thinking skills. These goals correspond to some of the traits that characterize the knowledge and capabilities components of technological literacy.1 As pointed out by Ollis and Pearson2, it would be difficult to find any person that exhibited all the characteristics associated with all three components. These courses make no attempt to reach such a goal. The primary purpose of the courses is to prepare midshipmen to be successful leaders in an increasingly technologically based military. Hence the goals of the course for midshipmen development coincide with the characteristics of a technologically astute citizen.

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2008 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015