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Evolution of a First-year Engineering Course

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

First Year Programs Division Poster Session: The Best Place to Really Talk about First-Year Education

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.700.1 - 26.700.11



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Paper Authors


Noah Salzman Boise State University

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Noah Salzman is an Assistant Professor at Boise State University, where he is a member of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department and IDoTeach, a pre-service STEM teacher preparation program. His work focuses on the transition from pre-college to university engineering programs, how exposure to engineering prior to matriculation affects the experiences of engineering students, and engineering in the K-12 classroom. He has worked as a high school science, mathematics, and engineering and technology teacher, as well as several years of electrical and mechanical engineering design experience as a practicing engineer. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering from Swarthmore College, his Master's of Education degree from the University of Massachusetts, and a Master's of Science in Mechanical Engineering and Doctorate in Engineering Education from Purdue University.

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Janet Callahan Boise State University Orcid 16x16

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Janet Callahan is the Founding Associate Dean for the College of Engineering at Boise State University and a Professor of Materials Science and Engineering. Dr. Callahan received her Ph.D. in Materials Science, her M.S. in Metallurgy, and her B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Connecticut. Her educational research interests include freshman engineering programs, math success, K-12 STEM curriculum and accreditation, and retention and recruitment of STEM majors.

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Gary LeRoy Hunt Boise State University


Carol Sevier Boise State University

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Carol Sevier is the Freshman Engineering Coordinator at Boise State University. She received her B.S. in Electrical Engineering from South Dakota State University (Brookings, S.D.). She was employed at Hewlett Packard for 16 years where she held a variety of positions in Quality Assurance, Manufacturing, and Marketing. She also served as the Development Director at the Discovery Center of Idaho, a hands-on science center. She has overseen the project-based Introduction to Engineering course since fall 2009. Sevier introduced a service learning design project, FUSE, into a portion of the Introduction to Engineering labs in spring 2009. This program received recognition by the National Academy of Engineering for infusing real-world experiences into engineering education. She continues to expand and refine the course content.

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Amy J Moll Boise State University

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Amy J. Moll is a Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and Dean of the College of Engineering at Boise State University. Moll received her B.S. degree in Ceramic Engineering from University of Illinois, Urbana in 1987. Her M.S. and Ph.D. degrees are in Materials Science and Engineering from University of California at Berkeley in 1992 and 1994. Following graduate school, Moll worked for Hewlett Packard (San Jose, Calif. and Colorado Springs, Colo.). She joined the faculty at Boise State as an Assistant Professor in Mechanical Engineering in August of 2000. Along with Dr. Bill Knowlton, Moll founded the Materials Science and Engineering Program at BSU and served as the first chair. In February 2011, she became Dean of the College of Engineering. Her research interests include microelectronic packaging, particularly 3-D integration and ceramic MEMS devices.

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Evolution of a First-Year Engineering CourseIn this paper, we describe the evolution of a First-Year Engineering program at a western publicuniversity. Driven by a desire to improve retention rates in engineering and with strong supportfrom the Dean’s office, the university received a grant to modify the First-Year Engineeringcurriculum along with other modifications to early STEM courses to improve studentachievement in these courses and better prepare the students for subsequent engineeringcoursework. We evaluated several options for modifying the First-Year Engineering course, andafter seeing data on the positive outcomes associated with the Wright State integratedmathematics curriculum decided to adopt this approach at our institution.The original First-Year Engineering course was a project-based lecture and lab class. Studentsworked in teams to design, analyze and implement solutions to a variety of open-endedengineering problems including designing and implementing a manufacturing process anddesigning and building a wind turbine. Along with gaining experience with the iterative designprocess, they were exposed to the breadth of opportunities available to engineers in the variousdisciplines through a series of guest lectures and class assignments.The modification to the First-Year engineering curriculum began with establishing a pilot sectionof the First-Year Engineering course that utilized the Wright State model to explore how thisapproach would work on our campus and learn how to implement it before adopting this modelfor the entire First-Year Engineering program. Analyzing student outcomes for the course, wefound that students participating in the pilot had higher median grades and a slightly higher passrate in their co-enrolled Calculus I class than those students enrolled in the standard section ofthe First-Year Engineering course.Based on the positive experience with the pilot of the course modeled on the Wright Statecurriculum model, we decided to modify all of the sections of the First-Year Engineering courseto include a stronger emphasis on mathematics content and preparation and exposure to Matlabprogramming. We did not want to entirely abandon the strong design focus of the earliercurriculum, so we developed and are currently teaching a hybrid course that incorporates bothengineering design and a stronger emphasis on mathematics than previous versions of the course.The current version of the course maintains some of the open-ended design projects from theoriginal course, including designing and building a small-scale generator and wind turbine. Wealso modified some of the activities to include stronger integration of mathematics, includingreplacing building and tensile testing a small-scale bridge with building and analyzing 2Dtrusses. This provides students the opportunity to both investigate the physical structure in laband develop and analyze a theoretical model using Matlab.We will evaluate the effectiveness of the new course by examining both grades in concurrentenrollment mathematics courses and longitudinally tracking students’ success and persistence insubsequent engineering and mathematics courses.

Salzman, N., & Callahan, J., & Hunt, G. L., & Sevier, C., & Moll, A. J. (2015, June), Evolution of a First-year Engineering Course Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24037

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