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Engaging Freshman Experience: The Key To Retention?

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session


Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.537.1 - 14.537.19



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Paper Authors


Ronald Welch University of Texas, Tyler

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Ron Welch is Professor and Head, Department of Civil Engineering at The University of Texas at Tyler. He is a registered Professional Engineer in Virginia. Until 2 Jan 2007, Ron was an Academy Professor at the United States Military Academy (USMA). Ron received a BS degree in Engineering Mechanics from the USMA in 1982 and MS and Ph.D. degrees in Civil Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1990 and 1999, respectively.

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

Engaging Freshman Experience – Key to Retention? Abstract

Introducing freshmen to engineering is easy, right? Or is it? Current freshmen study while listening to an IPOD, texting or IMing their friends, etc. So methods used by faculty should be effective – measuring the tolerance of washers, building a circuit on a breadboard, etc. Those students not interested in these types of lab experiences should not be engineers, right? The University of Texas at Tyler chose to try something new while looking to improve retention of freshmen and provide valuable content like engineering constraints early in an engineer’s academic career. First the history of engineering is introduced so that students better understand where current engineering has developed from while getting a feel for the type of people who have made contributions to society and who many times are just like them. Next toys were introduced – Lego, K’Nex, and strobe lights - to spark creativity and capture their attention while having fun during data collection. This paper will address the changes to the course and how it has improved retention.


The freshman engineering course (ENGR 1200 Engineering Methods1) at The University of Texas at Tyler received a major overhaul during the summer of 2006. The original course outline is shown in Appendix 1. The new Chair of the Department of Civil Engineering who was to arrive in January 2007 was asked by the Dean to adjust the course to better engage and excite the students about engineering, and hopefully in the future, students about computer science if the course becomes a college wide freshman requirement, while not changing the objectives and major requirements currently in the course.

The author had been working unsuccessfully for some time to develop a freshman engineering experience at the United States Military Academy (USMA). Since the forty- seven month experience at USMA had to be generic for the first three semesters regardless of academic major, there was no room to insert a freshman engineering experience. Additionally, the large common core preparing future army officers severely limits the actual number of courses within the major that even individual majors can not afford a freshman (or sophomore) engineering experience. The desired content for the course would have been derived from an engineering course at Princeton University developed by Professor David Billington (CEE102 – Engineering and the Modern World2) and the Summer Leaders Seminar3 for high school students at the United States Military Academy (USMA).

The focus of the engineering course by Professor Billington is to provide a historical foundation as to how society arrived at the present modern engineering capabilities based on the past history of engineers and their engineering machines and how these machines and surrounding events affected the politics of public works, the economics of private enterprise, the rise of industry that reshapes regions, and the conflict between public

Welch, R. (2009, June), Engaging Freshman Experience: The Key To Retention? Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--4953

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