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Engaging Engineering Students In Learning A College Wide First Year Seminar Program

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



Page Count


Page Numbers

6.420.1 - 6.420.9



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Paper Authors

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Andrew Lau

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Robert Pangborn

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Session 2793

Engaging Engineering Students in Learning – A College-wide First Year Seminar Program

Andrew S. Lau, Robert N. Pangborn College of Engineering, Penn State University


This paper describes the inception, design and implementation of a First-Year Seminar Program in the College of Engineering at Penn State. Emanating from coincidental activities of a college- based colloquy and working group on the engineering curriculum, and a re-evaluation of the general education program by the University Faculty Senate, the new first-year seminars were piloted in the College in 1998-99 and became a requirement for all students entering the University, effective summer 1999. The overall objective was to foster an understanding and appreciation for the importance of general education within the context of students’ undergraduate experience; and specifically to engage students more quickly in the scholarly community and facilitate their adjustment to the high expectations and challenges of college life. Other than stipulating that the seminars should be offered in small classes (20 students or less), and led by faculty with at least several years of teaching experience, the format and approach were left very flexible. Each of the University’s colleges was free to develop a seminar program that would be attractive to, and effective for, both its students and faculty. In the College of Engineering, the seminar program was configured as a mix of offerings tuned to the differing needs of the 1000 incoming first-year students, as well as to stimulate interest among the faculty to teach them. The resultant array of more than 50 distinct courses ranges from those that allow exploration of a variety of majors and careers, sections that emphasize particular disciplines, offerings that help students develop key academic skills or that provide hands-on and laboratory experiences, and seminars that are developed around a special interest of a faculty member or a professional or technical theme. An attractive funding mechanism was developed to help motivate faculty participation and address the department workloads. Overall coordination is provided at the College level, along with help on course development and assessment. Early evidence suggests the program is successful: a pilot program has been scaled up to include all new first-year students, and the model adopted for the program appears to work in the environment of a large, research university. This paper describes the “why and how to” -- detailing the origins, structure and operation of the program. A companion paper attempts to answer the question of “how well we did” -- as gleaned from the early results of assessment activities and instruments. These include input from students on their satisfaction with the seminars, compilation of what activities are actually taking place in the seminars, attempts to measure educational outcomes, and feedback from faculty members on their experiences with the program.

I. Origins of the First-Year Seminar Program

The impetus for the Engineering First-Year Seminar Program came from the establishment of a new, university-wide general education requirement. In early 1996, a Special Committee on General Education was charged by the University Faculty Senate to assess and make

Proceedings of the 2001 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright 2001, American Society for Engineering Education

Lau, A., & Pangborn, R. (2001, June), Engaging Engineering Students In Learning A College Wide First Year Seminar Program Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico. 10.18260/1-2--9181

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