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Evaluating the Impact of a Revised Introductory Engineering Course: Student Retention and Success as an Indicator

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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 5A: Work-In-Progress: 5 Minute Postcard Session I

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First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Ryan W. Krauss Southern Illinois University - Edwardsville

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Dr. Krauss received his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Georgia Tech in 2006. His research interests include modeling and control design for flexible robots, feedback control, and microcontroller-based implementation of feedback control systems. In addition to the freshmen introduction to engineering design course, he has taught courses in mechatronics, controls, vibrations, dynamics and robotics as well as senior design.

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Ryan Fries Southern Illinois University - Edwardsville

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Ryan Fries is an Associate Professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. He earned his BS in Civil Engineering from the University of Delaware and his MS and PhD from Clemson University in South Carolina, where he is a licensed Professional Engineer.

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Cem Karacal Southern Illinois University - Edwardsville

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Dr. Cem Karacal is a Professor of Industrial Engineering and Dean of the School of Engineering at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. He obtained his Ph.D. and M.S. degrees from Oklahoma State University in 1991 and 1986, respectively. His received his B.Sc. degree from Middle East Technical University, Ankara, Turkey in 1982. He has experience in industry and academia. His main research and teaching interest areas are simulation modeling, quality control, operations research, and facilities layout. Before joining to SIUE he worked at Rochester Institute of Technology as a faculty member and Computer Integrated Manufacturing System project coordinator for RIT's integrated circuit factory. He is a senior member of IIE and SME, and a member of ASEE, Alpha Pi Mu and Tau Beta Pi.

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As part of our NSF STEP project, a new and improved version of our Freshmen Engineering Course was developed. This paper will provide information on the new format and content of the course as well as share the results in terms of student success and retention rates.

In the past, declared engineering freshmen and students with interest in engineering took one three-credit introductory engineering course. The course covered basic critical thinking skills, fundamental steps of problem definition, formulation, and solution techniques common to all engineering disciplines. Case studies and small projects gave students a feel for, and an appreciation of, the different engineering disciplines. Formerly, the course was primarily taught by an adjunct faculty member who had both teaching and industrial experience. Our experience has shown that the student population in the class was rather mixed in terms of preparation level. About half of the students were highly motivated, with clearly defined goals and objectives. The other half of the students were somewhat less motivated, and came with less than adequate science and quantitative background. This student diversity made it a major challenge to design the course content in a way that could be attractive to both populations. In addition, section sizes were very large (80-90 sin each) and the instructor’s interaction with students was limited. As a result, mentoring and active learning opportunities were less than ideal.

A large body of literature exists on the freshman experience. However, based on our previous experiences with the course, we made plans to adopt the team teaching model successfully implemented at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. Instead of using adjunct faculty to teach the course, a team of full-time faculty representing four different engineering disciplines took the responsibility of developing and teaching different segments of the course content along with a complementary small project on each segment. This format also helps students connect with faculty from different engineering disciplines during their first year. Before the first year of the proposed change, faculty members with demonstrated teaching skills from different engineering fields were provided with summer support to redesign the course content as a project-oriented, team-based, interdisciplinary course.

At XXXX University, a freshmen seminar is required for all incoming first year students. The seminar component is infused into a set of selected general education and discipline-specific courses and help students learn about campus resources and culture. These courses are offered in smaller sections of up to 30 students to provide meaningful interactions with the instructors. In its new form, our introductory engineering course is offered in four sections as a freshmen seminar course both in fall and spring semesters. Only declared engineering students are eligible to register for these sections. The four faculty members teach four week long project-based modules focused on their field of study such as Mechanical, Electrical, Civil and Industrial Engineering. The modules are rotated around the sections by instructors switching sections every four weeks. It should be noted that because the semester is 16 weeks long, the last four-week module includes the final exam week. A diverse group of graduate assistants with good academic record and communications skills were used to help students with their module projects.

In addition to the four freshmen seminar sections, a non-freshmen seminar section of the course was offered to students who were interested, but not declared engineering yet. This section allows larger enrollment numbers and was primarily offered to recognize the different preparedness, motivation and commitment levels of the two student populations mentioned above.

We have data from the first two years of implementation, demonstrating that the new version of the course improved student understanding of fundamental engineering concepts, the design process, and different disciplines, as well as increased with our retention rate in engineering. This paper will detail these findings and draw conclusions about which practices led to these successes.

Krauss, R. W., & Fries, R., & Karacal, C. (2016, June), Evaluating the Impact of a Revised Introductory Engineering Course: Student Retention and Success as an Indicator Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26762

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