Asee peer logo

Core Engineering Renaissance At Rensselaer: Engineering Discovery A Pilot First Year Course

Download Paper |


2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

Curriculum Innovation & Assessment

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.354.1 - 10.354.15



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

Richard Smith

author page

Kevin Craig

author page

Pamela Theroux

Download Paper |

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

Core Engineering Renaissance at Rensselaer: Engineering Discovery – A Pilot First-Year Course

Kevin Craig, Pamela Theroux, and Richard Smith Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Introduction and Motivation Are engineering schools meeting the needs of today’s young women and men not just to study engineering, but to become engineers? Are they showing young students, even before they enter college, what it means to be an engineer and how engineers can help people and contribute to society? Do our young students share with us in the responsibility for their education and are they prepared for a process of lifelong learning necessary for the technical leadership required to face an unpredictable future? Do engineering students view the required fundamental courses in science, mathematics, and social science as disconnected courses that must be taken as part of some rite of passage into the study of engineering, or as the interrelated fundamental body of knowledge essential for the practice of engineering? These questions are being asked nationwide by students and parents, university faculty, government administrators, and industry executives. Unfortunately, the answers indicate an urgent need for a systemic change – incremental change is not an option. Recent times have seen no clear path forward and an apparent absence of focused, action-oriented leadership. New generations of students, with different backgrounds, interests, skills, and needs, must be enthused about the profession of engineering and better prepared, in both technical and non-technical areas, to creatively advance technology and solve the problems the 21st century will present. Renaissance engineers, men and women who get involved in public policy, stand for practical and cooperative solutions, work to change the world to make it a better place, and improve the quality of life for all the people of the earth, are needed. To create them requires a new approach to engineering education.

The U.S. is in a competitiveness-and-innovation struggle with the rest of the world, primarily India, China, and Japan. The U.S. is also facing a critical shortage of engineers. Several factors have contributed to this. Among them are: (a) There has been a 37 percent decline in engineering interest by college-bound high school students over the past 12 years; (b) The U.S. now ranks 17th among nations surveyed in the share of its 18-to-24-year-olds who earn natural science and engineering degrees. In 1975, it was third. Engineering B.S. degrees peaked in 1985 at 77,572 (2.2% women), and plunged to 60,914 (1.7% women) in 19981; (c) The U.S. has become overly dependent on the global workforce while no longer dominating the global marketplace for technical talent as it once did6. Who then will take us into the future? Science and engineering together are the engines for economic growth and national security. Universities are failing to attract women, underrepresented minorities, people with disabilities, and perhaps, most importantly, those students who were never exposed to the excitement and fulfillment of an engineering career.

What are the Essential Requirements for a 1st-Year Engineering Curriculum? The freshman year is critical for keeping promising students on the engineering track. A first- year engineering curriculum is a bridge between high school and the in-depth study of the engineering disciplines. This bridge, at most universities, is very rickety and many students fall

“Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2005, American Society for Engineering Education”

Smith, R., & Craig, K., & Theroux, P. (2005, June), Core Engineering Renaissance At Rensselaer: Engineering Discovery A Pilot First Year Course Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--15499

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: © 2005 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