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Engineering First: An Undergraduate Dilemma

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2002 Annual Conference


Montreal, Canada

Publication Date

June 16, 2002

Start Date

June 16, 2002

End Date

June 19, 2002



Conference Session

Undergraduate Research and New Directions

Page Count


Page Numbers

7.485.1 - 7.485.7



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Paper Authors

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Shehu Farinwata

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Engineering First: An Undergraduate Dilemma Shehu S. Farinwata, Ph.D., P.E., Senior Member, IEEE Department of Electrical Engineering The University of Texas at Tyler 3900 University Blvd, Tyler, TX 75799, USA



The trends brought about as a result of computer software revolution and evolution are many and varied in just about any of the traditional engineering disciplines. A lot of such trends might be seen as a response to an interesting reversal of opportunity, which is application-driven research. Not too long ago it had been research seeking application. Experience has shown that the ensuing rush to the mouse and keyboard and the super calculator in engineering education tends to erode the once very pervasive, curious and enthusiastic, if not essential, attitude for grasping, with uncompromising rigor, the various traditional science and engineering subjects. So in the heat of a circumstance, a student might opt to escape having to review, or even gain a good grasp of vector calculus so as to solidify an understanding of electromagnetic fields hence that of circuit theory and of electric machinery, by clicking away in say, Mathematica, Matlab, Maple or any CAD package for that matter. It is not uncommon that such a student might find the application of essential circuit laws quite problematic in an ensuing course in electronic circuit analysis. Another not so uncommon instance that experience has revealed is that of the student asking if it was sufficient in a course in system theory, to use a software package in a homework in which it is required to determine the eigenvalues and eigenvectors of a simple three by three matrix. The fear being that it might be too tedious. However, another fear that has been observed was that the student's discomfort or inadequate preparation in linear algebra might be exposed. What one would expect a conscientious student to do in this case might be to do the assignment by hand thus reviewing and enhancing the understanding of linear dependencies of vectors, rank and degeneracy of matrix eigenvalues and eigenvectors, then verify the key results using a CAD package. That way the student might even discover the effect of computer round- off and truncation errors, if any, on the computed eigenvalues and the eigenvectors, and what algorithm was used in the CAD package with its associated pitfalls. While all of this click, drag and drop and press may be going on in the spirit of educational exploration, curiosity and vogue or even as a matter of necessity and timeliness, there should always be a point for researchers and educators to consciously stand back and ascertain the importance of helping the undergraduate student maintain some balance, to be well- groomed in both sound engineering theory and computation. This paper addresses the issue of this balance. Examples are drawn from the essential, make-or-break engineering courses such as differential equations and circuit theory to show the lack of mature

1 Proceedings of the 2002 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright @ 2002, American Society for Engineering Education

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Farinwata, S. (2002, June), Engineering First: An Undergraduate Dilemma Paper presented at 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada. 10.18260/1-2--10831

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