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Cut To The Chase: Extensive Computer Applications In A First Engineering Course

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2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

Emerging Trends in Engineering Education Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.388.1 - 10.388.8



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Paper Authors

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Tristan Utschig

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

Cut to the Chase: Extensive Computer Applications in a First Engineering Course

Tristan T. Utschig

Lewis-Clark State College, Lewiston, Idaho


Freshman engineering students generally have laudable goals. They want to learn how to build quality products and work with appropriate engineering tools. Nonetheless, the typical freshman in many pre-engineering programs is not well prepared for the rigors of study in higher education. Now, much of their learning comes outside the classroom, and often the hands-on, in- class experience they are accustomed to is completely absent. How do you build an introductory engineering course that gives students the flavor of engineering, improves their general pre-requisite engineering knowledge and problem solving skills, motivates them via interesting applications and the use of modern engineering computer tools, helps them learn to use high-level computer software for problem-solving, and gives them the confidence to continue successfully in the engineering field? Part of the answer may be to cut to the chase and get them actively involved while in the classroom with engineering tools they can apply immediately. This paper describes how the extensive use of computers in a freshman level introductory course in engineering gives students the necessary hands-on skills, experience, and motivation to succeed as they continue their engineering education. Approximately one-third to one-half of class time in a three-credit, semester long course is devoted to computer skills essential to engineering success. These skills are introduced using MS-Word, MS-Excel, and MATLAB, and are completely integrated into the course through assignments involving engineering professional knowledge, analytical problem-solving skills, and simple design projects. Significantly, this approach naturally ties into current, student-centered, best practices in engineering education because active learning is automatically incorporated into class activities. The experience gained through the hands-on setting inside the classroom gives students confidence to attack non-trivial problems, solve them with the aid of the computer, and present results professionally. This conclusion is supported by student evaluations ranking the course between 4.0 and 4.75 on a five-point Likert scale over several years and by retention rates near 80%, which well exceed overall college retention rates of below 60%. By organizing much of the material in this course around computer applications, a unique introduction to engineering geared towards helping students with under-prepared backgrounds to succeed has been created.


A general introductory engineering course, Fundamentals of Engineering Analysis and Design, has been developed to serve the needs of a broad range of students in the pre-engineering transfer program at Lewis-Clark State College. Generally, the freshman students enrolling in the pre-

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

Utschig, T. (2005, June), Cut To The Chase: Extensive Computer Applications In A First Engineering Course Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--14144

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