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Engineering Freshman Seminars

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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

6.435.1 - 6.435.7

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K. Arthur Overholser

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

Session 1653

Engineering Freshman Seminars

K. Arthur Overholser Vanderbilt University

Abstract Engineering freshman seminars at Vanderbilt University incorporate several features that make them attractive to faculty and students: (1) they are limited to one-semester hour; (2) they are optional for students and for professors; (3) they are staffed entirely by full-time professors; and (4) the faculty may teach anything they please within their own area of expertise. These seminars were developed in response to student requests for more intimate intellectual contact with senior professors and for earlier exposure to engineering thought. During the first year of experimentation, 11 sections were taught to 85 of our 320 freshman. In 2000-01 12 sections are taught to 173 of 360 freshman. Perhaps not surprisingly in view of the volunteer nature of the courses, objective student ratings of these course are the highest in the School of Engineering, and faculty satisfaction is high. Everyone takes credit for our one-year increase in freshman- sophomore retention from 89% to 94%, but these seminars have surely played a role. Our recent initiative in the use of wireless laptop computers in the classroom will further enrich the freshman seminar experience. Other planned improvements include team-taught freshman seminars in conjunction with the colleges of arts and science, education, music, and business.

I. Introduction: Challenges of the Freshman Year The self-examination urged on us by the expectations of Engineering Criteria 2000 made it clear that the Vanderbilt University School of Engineering, like many of our counterparts elsewhere, faces challenges in the engineering freshman year. Our objectives for the freshman year -- (1) to illustrate the practice of engineering as an iterative process of synthesis and analysis, (2) to help the student make career choices, (3) to provide tools prerequisite to further study, (4) to develop learning skills, (5) to illustrate the role of ethics in the professional practice of engineering, (6) to develop teamwork skills, and (7) to develop communications skills – were not always being achieved. In particular, objectives (2), (4), and (7) were not being realized in our rather standard first year, which consists of mathematics, science, liberal arts electives, a slate of “technology- society” electives, an introductory engineering course emphasizing team projects and basic computer skills, and a C++ programming course.

Many of our freshmen made it clear to us in our constituent polling that they felt they were getting insufficient help in career choices and that they were sometimes disappointed in their

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

Overholser, K. A. (2001, June), Engineering Freshman Seminars Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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