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Engaging Computer Engineering Freshmen through a Voluntary Competitive Team Project with Mentoring

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

FPD 9: First-Year Projects

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.488.1 - 24.488.11



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Paper Authors


Roy W. Melton Department of Computer Engineering, Rochester Institute of Technology

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Roy Melton is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Computer Engineering of the Kate Gleason College of Engineering at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, N.Y., where the graduating computer engineering classes of 2010 through 2013 voted him the "most effective teacher" in the department and where he was a finalist for the 2012-2013 RIT Outstanding Teaching Award for Non-Tenure-Track Faculty. He received his Ph.D., M.S.E.E., and B.E.E. degrees from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Ga. He is a member of ASEE and IEEE.

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Shanchieh Jay Yang Rochester Institute of Technology (COE)


Adriana Becker-Gomez Rochester Institute of Technology (KGCOE)

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Adriana Becker-Gómez was born in Mexico City, Mexico. She received the B.S.E.E. degree from Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico. She obtained the M.S. degree in Electrical Engineering from Texas A&M University, College Station, and her Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Texas at Dallas. In 1992 she was a Lecturer and a Teaching Assistant at Universidad Iberoamericana. In 1990 she worked as a Research and Development Engineer and Project Leader for the Automotive Industry in the area of Embedded and Software Systems. She also worked as an Assistant to the Dean of the Graduate Studies of Engineering Division at Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Mexico in 1995 .In 2000 she was a grader at Texas A&M University. In 2001 she interned in the Preamp R&D SP Group at Texas Instruments, Dallas, TX, and at Intersil Corporation, Dallas / Milpitas, as a Design Engineer, in the High Performance Analog Group in 2005. She worked at Intersil as a Senior Design Engineer in the Analog and Mixed Signal-Data Converters Group. In 2009 she joined Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York as an adjunct professor in ECT-ET Department. Currently she works as a lecturer in the Kate Gleason College of Engineering in the Computer Engineer Department. Her research interests are in the Design of Low Power Analog and Mixed Signal circuits, Data Converters, Sensors, Embedded Systems and Signal Processing.

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Engaging Computer Engineering Freshmen through a Voluntary Competitive Team Project with MentoringMany freshman computer engineering students need hands-on activity in addition to classroominstruction to sustain their interest and motivation in their chosen discipline. Whereas a requiredcourse with lab had typically filled this need in spring, last spring we offered our freshmen azero-credit freshman project with one scheduled contact hour per week and with no grade.Unlike the required course with lab where students learned through traditional instruction forassessment by homework, quizzes, exams, and lab demonstrations, participation in the freshmanproject was voluntary, and students learned primarily through mentoring for assessment in a finalcompetition.The project consisted of incorporating a commercial off-the-shelf radio controlled (RC) car witha provided microcontroller, motor driver circuitry, and line sensors to making it travel a track byfollowing a line in the center to compete for the best time. Project execution consisted of fourphases: planning, instruction, design, and competition. For planning before spring, upper-classstudents were recruited to serve as mentors, and they investigated potential microcontroller andRC platforms. By developing prototypes, the mentors knew first-hand the design issues andbecame prepared to lead the freshman teams.Concurrent with a brief traditional classroom instruction phase, accounting for about the firstthird of spring when students were presented information in a traditional classroom setting on themicrocontroller platform, motor actuation, and sensors, each student was surveyed to find anypreferences regarding specific classmates for the same team and to assess aptitude forparticipation in the project, (e.g., levels of interest, availability, and commitment), and studentswere assigned to teams of five or six students, based on the survey results. Next, mentors andequipment were allocated to teams, and each team began its design with the guidance of amentor. Finally, teams competed in an exhibition as part of a campus-wide festival. Thecompetition consisted of elimination rounds of round-robin matches of pairs of teams with twosymmetric tracks, where each car ran once on each track within a round and where each car ranin two matches. In the early rounds, scoring was by finish order, and in the final rounds scoringwas by finish time.Learning through mentoring as well as independent and cooperative learning developed a senseof community within each team. Furthermore, the common experience of taking somethingfamiliar and applying newly learned computer engineering skills to produce something tangiblethat actually “works” made the discipline more relevant to the freshmen. In addition, theylearned about working in engineering teams.Every team entered a working car in the competition, and 68% of students attended thecompetition. At the start of spring, about four percent of students dropped the course with timecommitment concerns, and roughly the same percentage withdrew during the quarter becausethey had decided to switch majors. Active participation during scheduled class time wasgenerally over 70% each week. These results suggest that a voluntary activity with organizedsupport and structure can be an effective mechanism to engage a majority of the freshman class.

Melton, R. W., & Yang, S. J., & Becker-Gomez, A. (2014, June), Engaging Computer Engineering Freshmen through a Voluntary Competitive Team Project with Mentoring Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20379

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