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Computational Paradigms In Undergraduate Mechanical Engineering Education

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



Page Count


Page Numbers

6.281.1 - 6.281.9

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Paper Authors

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W. Steele

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B.K. Hodge

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

Session 2266

Computational Paradigms in Undergraduate Mechanical Engineering Education

B. K. Hodge, W. G. Steele Mississippi State University


Undergraduate mechanical engineering (ME) programs in the United States were surveyed to determine the usage of programming languages (such as C or FORTRAN) versus the use of arithmetic systems (such as Matlab or Mathcad). A survey form was e-mailed to all ME programs. The survey form was used to determine the following: (1) programming courses required, (2) use of programming in ME curricula, (3) use of arithmetic systems in ME curricula, (4) junior-level analysis courses required, and (5) computer ownership requirements. Seventy- three responses, representing a good cross section of ME programs were received. The survey showed that about three- fourths required at least one course in structured programming but that only one third of the programs requiring a formal programming course used programming in two or more required courses. More than three-fourths of all programs used arithmetic systems such as Matlab or Mathcad, and about the same number required a junior-level analysis course. Thirteen of the seventy-three ME programs that responded to the survey required students to own computes.


At some point in any engineering endeavor, calculations must be made and “numbers” generated. The manner of doing calculations in the engineering workplace and in engineering education has continuously evolved, especially since World War II. Prior to that time, engineering calculations were accomplished in a manual fashion using what were then state-of- the-art techniques. In the eighteenth century, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and log tables were laboriously used. The situation was greatly improved by the slide rule [the first useful one was introduced about 1850 (1)] and the mechanical calculator, but generating numbers was, until after World War II, still a labor-intensive undertaking. Feynman’s (2) anecdotal account of neutron diffusion calculations at Los Alamos in the 1940’s is a good example of the drudgery and tediousness of extended pre-computer calculations. The digital computer fundamentally altered the use of “manual” calculations and replaced it with machine- based computations. Initial efforts were hard-wired (literally) with patch boards, but by the early 1950’s higher-level programming languages evolved. For engineering computations, FORTRAN became the dominant programming language. However, as these advances were taking place, both the engineering workplace and engineering education struggled to effectively utilize the promise of the “computer” and to define the relationship between the computer and engineering. Indeed, one could argue that these struggles are ongoing.

The situation is much clearer today than a decade ago, and much progress has been made in effective utilization and in the computer/engineering symbiosis. Hodge (3) identified four

Proceedings of the 2001 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright 2001, American Society for Engineering Education

Steele, W., & Hodge, B. (2001, June), Computational Paradigms In Undergraduate Mechanical Engineering Education Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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