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Enhancing Curriculum in a First-Year Introduction to Engineering Course to Assist Students in Choice of Major

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

First-Year Programs Division Technical Session 9: Evaluating and Measuring Recruiting and Major Selection Strategies

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Jaqi C. McNeil University of Louisville Orcid 16x16

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Jacqueline McNeil is an Assistant Professor for the Department of Engineering Fundamentals at University of Louisville. She is investigating nontraditional student pathways in engineering. She finished her Ph. D. in December 2014, titled, “Engineering Faculty Views of Teaching Quality, Accreditation, and Institutional Climate and How They Influence Teaching Practices.” Her research is focused on engineering faculty perceptions of quality and on nontraditional students in engineering. McNeil received her master’s degree in Engineering Management from South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (SDSMT) in August 2011. She was a mentor and tutor for American Indian students at SDSMT during that time. She worked as a mining engineer in industry between graduating with her engineering undergraduate degree and starting her graduate studies. Contact her at

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Angela Thompson P.E. University of Louisville

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Dr. Angela Thompson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering Fundamentals at the University of Louisville. Dr. Thompson received her PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Louisville. Her research interests are in biomechanics and engineering education, particularly related to critical thinking instruction.

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This paper describes an introductory engineering course infused with active learning strategies and standards-based grading. This first-year course for engineering and technology students at a community college emphasizes working in teams to complete hands-on activities using EXCEL and structured programming with MATLAB.

Initial assignments involve using EXCEL to display and analyze data from Ohm’s Law and the speed of sound in air. The next assignment requires distance measuring with ultrasound and designing an ultrasonic range-finder. In the remainder of the assignments over the final three- quarters of the semester, MATLAB is used as a structured programming language to first control the movement of a stepper-motor rotor and then to identify different translucent materials from their visible light spectra as measured by a spectrometer. A final project combines the stepper- motor rotor with spectroscopy to automatically identify different oils by their spectra produced with a tungsten lamp.

Oral communication expertise is a very empowering skill-set to possess and being able to work well in a group and to deliver a presentation are highly prized job skills. To further reinforce the learned concepts and to incorporate another valuable skill-set, students are required to deliver over the course of the semester three presentations of their projects.

Standards-based evaluation is used to assess each student’s submissions. Standards for each week’s submissions are published at the beginning of the semester and reemphasized as needed. As the course has a goal of facilitating learning, and encouraging the mastery of new skills rather than penalizing mistakes, resubmission of assignments that have not reached the required standard is allowed and encouraged.

During the first four years of this course, Supplementary Instruction (SI) with SI Leaders was gradually introduced and is now incorporated into all sections of the course including adjunct instructor offerings.

To document student success, data on student achievement in the course has been collected for twenty-two sections of the course over a span of four and one-half years. Data on course completion rates for this course will be presented and compared to course completion rates for other engineering courses at the community college and to the course completion rates for all courses at the community college. Longitudinal data on student persistence in engineering at the community college and on engineering students transferring to the university will also be presented.

References 1. Argrow, Louie, Knight, et al. (2012). Introduction to Engineering: Preparing First-Year Students for an Informed Major Choice. ASEE Annual Conference. San Antonio, TX. 2. Zahorian, Elmore, Temkin. (2013). Factors that Influence Engineering Freshman to Choose Their Engineering Major. ASEE Annual Conference. Atlanta, GA. 3. Rodriguez-Simmonds, Ortega-Alvarez, Atiq, Hoffmann. (2015). Identifying Sources of Information that Students use in Deciding which Engineering Major to Pursue. ASEE Annual Conference. Seattle, WA. 4. Paul, Niewoehner, and Elder. (2006). The Thinkers Guide to Engineering Reasoning. Foundation for Critical Thinking.

McNeil, J. C., & Thompson, A. (2016, June), Enhancing Curriculum in a First-Year Introduction to Engineering Course to Assist Students in Choice of Major Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26696

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