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Evolution of Cornerstone: Creating a First-year Culture with a Multifaceted Approach

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

First-year Programs Division: Design

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First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Richard Whalen Northeastern University

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Dr. Richard Whalen is a Teaching Professor at Northeastern University in Boston, MA and is Associate Director of First-year Engineering. The mission of the First-year Engineering team is to provide a reliable, wide-ranging, and constructive educational experience that endorses the student-centered and professionally-oriented mission of the University. He also teaches specialty courses in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at Northeastern and has published and presented papers on approaches and techniques in engineering education. He has won multiple Outstanding Teaching Awards at Northeastern and numerous Best Paper and Best Presentation Awards with fellow First-year faculty coauthors at ASEE.

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Susan F. Freeman Northeastern University

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Susan Freeman, is a member of Northeastern University’s first-year engineering facutly, a group of teaching faculty expressly devoted to the first-year Engineering Program at Northeastern University. The focus of this team is on providing a consistent, comprehensive, and constructive educational experience that endorses the student-centered, professional and practice-oriented mission of Northeastern University.

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Jennifer Ocif Love Northeastern University

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Jennifer Love is a full-time faculty member of Northeastern University's First Year Engineering Program in the College of Engineering. She is currently working toward a doctorate in education at Northeastern University with a focus on PreK-20 engineering education.

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Kathryn Schulte Grahame Northeastern University

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Dr. Kathryn Schulte Grahame is an Associate Teaching Professor at Northeastern University. As part of her First-Year Faculty appointment she teaches freshman engineering courses as well as undergraduate civil engineering courses.

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Joshua L. Hertz Northeastern University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Hertz earned a B.S. in Ceramic Engineering from Alfred University in 1999 and then a Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2006. Following this, he worked at the National Institute of Standards and Technology as a National Research Council postdoctoral fellow. He joined the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Delaware as an Assistant Professor in September 2008, leading a lab that researched the effects of composition and nanostructure on ionic conduction and surface exchange in ceramic materials. In 2014, he moved to Northeastern University to focus on teaching and developing curriculum for their First Year Engineering program.

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This complete evidence-based practice paper presents an update of analysis and lessons learned in a required first-year engineering curriculum at a medium sized private urban university. A curricula redesign resulted in a “cornerstone to capstone” approach with a pilot program rolled out to 2 sections of a first-year engineering course in the Fall of 2014. The goal of this cornerstone approach was to integrate design, programming, graphical communication, and engineering analysis previously taught in two separate first-year engineering courses by creating an 8 credit hour 14 week course that focuses on real world, hands-on design projects. Logistical concerns related to instructor loading and classroom facilities with the 8 credit hour course led to the implementation in the Fall of 2015 of a 28 week, 2 separate 4 credit hour course version given over 2 semesters - fall and spring. Now in its third year of continued refinement and analysis, the University is offering 5 sections of the 8 credit hour course (Full Cornerstone) and 25 sections of the 2 separate 4 credit hour course (Split Cornerstone). Each section is populated with approximately 32 first-year students.

With two versions implemented over the past two years, there have been enough redesign to warrant more discussion. This redesign has been those iterative steps of identifying new problems with the delivery and implementation, doing more research, finding many creative options for improvement, working as a team to pilot and evaluate each, and repeating. The course design is driven by feedback and data on improvement, fundamentally following the design process we teach in the course. The data used to drive this redesign has come from four sources. The first source is a survey of students in both the cornerstone and non-cornerstone (original 2 course sequence) sections on many topics covering textbooks, pedagogy, concepts taught, self-efficacy in engineering, and more. The second source was the student feedback teams used in many sections of the course. The third source is the University administered student evaluations given at the end of each semester. The fourth source is the first-year teaching team, which met frequently and worked over each summer to improve course design and supporting materials.

The purpose of this paper is to outline the differences between the Full versus Split Cornerstone approaches and to compare the perspectives and achievements of students taking the new Cornerstone courses versus those taking the previous course structure. This analysis includes how both the students and instructors are affected by each approach and the lessons learned along the way to make both successful. The paper will update the various projects and themes used to create the project based courses and analyze our forms of assessment to qualify and quantify the approach. Overall results show that the Cornerstone approach is successful and students see a positive improvement in their perspectives on engineering and self-efficacy in their abilities to become an engineer.

Table 1. How did your perspective on engineering change after taking this course? (1 to 4, negative to positive)

All Data Original 2 Courses Cornerstone Average STD Average STD Average STD 3.798 0.717 3.643 0.796 3.906 0.636

Based on your experiences so far, do you think you have the ability to become an engineer? (1 to 5, negative to positive)

All Data Original 2 Courses Cornerstone Average STD Average STD Average STD 4.3 0.815 4.270 0.861 4.321 0.783

Whalen, R., & Freeman, S. F., & Love, J. O., & Schulte Grahame, K., & Hertz, J. L. (2018, June), Evolution of Cornerstone: Creating a First-year Culture with a Multifaceted Approach Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30459

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2018 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015