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Development of a Project-Based Civil & Environmental Introductory Course

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2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Minneapolis, MN

Publication Date

August 23, 2022

Start Date

June 26, 2022

End Date

June 29, 2022

Conference Session

Civil Engineering Division - Innovative Changes to the Typical Civil Engineering Coursework.

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Jacob Henschen University of Illinois at Urbana - Champaign

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Jacob Henschen is a teaching assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department. He received his B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His research interests include additive manufacturing with cementitious materials and the use of virtual reality in undergraduate education.

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Arthur Schmidt University of Illinois at Urbana - Champaign

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Jeffery Roesler University of Illinois at Urbana - Champaign


Jordan Ouellet University of Illinois at Urbana - Champaign

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Graduate Teaching and Research Assistant

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Our civil and environmental engineering (CEE) department has recently begun to modify their undergraduate curriculum to address the ever-evolving expectations of the profession. A critical element to this curriculum innovation is the intentional addition of professional skill-building at each level of the program. Prior to this course development, the only CEE course was a seminar course that introduced students to the curriculum, faculty, and ongoing research in the department. As a result, this introduction to civil engineering course was targeted to be overhauled to provide a foundation for the broader changes taking place across the curriculum.

The fundamental objective of the introductory course has always been to orient the students to the civil engineering curriculum and help them to begin to identify themselves within the profession. In the previous iteration, students listened to seminars given by faculty highlighting the key disciplines and faculty in civil engineering department. While the seminars were informative, they did not allow for reinforcement of the professional skills that were targeted in the curriculum innovation. In addition, the revision provided an opportunity to leverage student-centered pedagogical techniques.

The new course utilized project-based learning with a variety of assignments to reinforce and develop a range of professional skills. Discussion assignments are short written communication in the context of a report or professional communication. Skill assignments develop students’ ability to manage, process, and present data. Case studies present technical information about the various disciplines within civil engineering and provide context for the final project. The case studies have become a early entry point for students to launch into undergraduate research experiences. Peer review exercises not only allow students to receive feedback from other teams and senior-level students but also train them to provide constructive, technical feedback. The interaction with seniors has led to several mentoring opportunities about future coursework, internships, and involvement in student organizations. Finally, journal and milestone assignments reinforce all of the mentioned skills while guiding the student through an engineering feasibility study of a campus problem within a design thinking process.

The development and scaling of this course has taken multiple years. In the initial offerings, students self-selected into the course, and enrollment was limited to 30 students. In the early offerings, changes to content were informed by student and faculty feedback. Over the last two years, the enrollment was expanded to include all the 185 first-year students. During this transition, the course has simultaneously moved to a hybrid modality due to COVID constraints, which has opened up new opportunities to present project findings from professionals through online video platforms. This presentation will detail the development of the course content, the steps taken to scale the course to accommodate all first-year students, and preliminary impacts of these changes.

Henschen, J., & Schmidt, A., & Roesler, J., & Ouellet, J. (2022, August), Development of a Project-Based Civil & Environmental Introductory Course Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN. 10.18260/1-2--41505

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