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Effect of Freshman Chemistry on Student Performance in Sophomore Engineering Courses

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Educational Research and Methods Potpourri II

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.531.1 - 22.531.9



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Paper Authors


Michael A. Collura University of New Haven

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Michael A. Collura, Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of New Haven, received his B.S. Chemical Engineering from Lafayette College and the M.S. and Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Lehigh University. He is currently serving as the Director of the Multidisciplinary Engineering Foundation Spiral Curriculum. His professional interests include the application of computers to process modeling and control, engineering education research and reform of engineering education.

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Shannon Ciston University of New Haven

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Shannon Ciston is an Assistant Professor of Multidisciplinary Engineering at the University of New Haven in Connecticut. Her background is in Chemical Engineering, with degrees from Northwestern University (Ph.D.) and Illinois Institute of Technology (B.S.). Dr. Ciston's research interests are in two main areas: Engineering Education (including student experience, attitudes, and perceptions) and Sustainability (including impacts of the Chemical and Energy industries on water resources).

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Nancy Ortins Savage University of New Haven

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Nancy Ortins Savage, PhD. is an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at the University of New Haven. Dr. Savage received her B.S. in Chemistry from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and her Ph.D. in Chemistry from The Ohio State University. Her research is in the development of new metal oxide-polymer composites and their application as gas sensors. She is also the director of the Summer Institute for Young Women, a STEM camp for middle school girls which takes place at the University of New Haven each summer.

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Effect of Freshman Chemistry on Student Performance in Sophomore Engineering CoursesThe role of first year chemistry courses in engineering programs varies somewhat acrossprograms and disciplines. Clearly most engineering majors will encounter chemistry topics of ageneral nature in some of their upper-level course work. The purpose of requiring chemistry inthe first year, however, goes well-beyond learning chemical concepts. As a quantitative science,chemistry requires the use of math, principally algebra, on a regular basis in solving variousproblems. Students should gain an appreciation of the importance of units in solving problemsand come to understand the difference between implicit and explicit properties and develop otherquantitative skills. Depending on how it is taught, it can provide students with a wide range ofopportunities to hone skills that will be required in their engineering courses. In discussions withstudents and even with many faculty, the role of chemistry is often viewed narrowly in terms ofthe chemistry topics alone. The purpose of this study is to explore how the number of chemistrycourses taken and the performance in freshman chemistry affects performance in earlyengineering courses.Engineering students at the University of __________ have different requirements for freshmanchemistry depending on their particular discipline. All engineering students are required to takeat least one freshman chemistry course. Students in chemical and civil engineering are requiredto take two, students in mechanical and system engineering have an option of biology orchemistry for the second course and students in electrical and computer engineering take onlyone freshman chemistry course. All engineering students take a sophomore engineering course,Introduction to Modeling of Engineering Systems, which includes topics drawn from electriccircuits, mass and energy balances and force balances. The course is designed to help studentsdevelop an organized approach to solving problems and uses a conservation and accountingapproach to provide a broad framework for the diverse topics. This course provides anopportunity to explore the question of how well-prepared students are for engineering coursework related to their freshman chemistry background.A "readiness quiz" was given during the first week of the sophomore engineering course.Questions on the test included the proper use of units and conversions, understanding thedifference between composition and quantity of material, and other basic concepts. The studywill compare student performance on this quiz to determine the effect of having one or twofreshman chemistry courses. Course grades and student achievement of specific courseoutcomes will also be compared over multiple years. Since the second chemistry course is anoption for some majors, the effect of the students selected major can be partially controlled in theanalysis. The methods used include standard statistical techniques, such as analysis of variance,correlation (eg., Pearson) and t-tests across groups. Some qualitative analysis techniques may beincluded to assess student perceptions and attitudes.

Collura, M. A., & Ciston, S., & Savage, N. O. (2011, June), Effect of Freshman Chemistry on Student Performance in Sophomore Engineering Courses Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17812

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