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"Engineering First" At Northwestern University

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

ASEE Multimedia Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.1.1 - 8.1.6



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Stephen Carr

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

Engineering First at Northwestern University: Where We Are in 2003

Stephen H. Carr Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science

Abstract Seven years ago we launched an innovative freshman curricular revision we call Engineering First, and it is now possible to see some of the lasting benefits it has added to the McCormick education. This paper will overview of how closely the intended outcomes were met and how Engineering First has driven curricular reforms at upper levels of our curricula. Evolution of the pedagogy as well as content of the Engineering First courses has occurred, and many discipline-specific courses have now adapted to the enhanced capabilities (and expectations!) that our students have. Most significantly, combining work that emphasizes communication skills with the doing of design (as a hallmark activity of engineers) is now being implemented in senior level capstone experiences. Consequences of Engineering First on attracting incoming students as well as on post-graduation careers will be presented.

Introduction Engineering First is the McCormick School's response to the many calls for curricular change coming from the profession and from external concerns, such as the National Academy of Engineering and the National Science Foundation. Engineering First challenges its students to develop new ways of thinking, by converting them from learning academic topics in isolation to learning engineering topics in an integrative fashion. Given that engineering at its very essence is "the creation of new things that people want", then young women and men who aspire to advance mankind's well being need exactly this kind of holistic thinking. Most engineering freshmen have little accurate knowledge about what distinguishes an engineering education from one in, say, science, but today's college students actually become energized by getting into engineering academic work as soon as they enter college.

Implementation of a significant revision of the freshman engineering curriculum has required the usual mix of patience, vision, diligence, and attention to details. The process here at Northwestern started by engaging leading faculty to drive this enterprise. Using their collective wisdom they crafted two new course sequences that encompassed the topics of courses in our then-existing basic courses. All-faculty approval was then garnered. A multi-year phase-in plan was implemented. Resources were acquired progressively. Ample communication with students, parents, University administration, and faculty was a priority. Continuous improvement was based on feedback from students, instructors, grades, enrollments, and employers, and this continuous

Proceedings of the 2003 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition © 2003, American Society for Engineering Education.

Carr, S. (2003, June), "Engineering First" At Northwestern University Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee. 10.18260/1-2--12395

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