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First Year Engineering At A Virginia Polytechnic Institute And State University: A Changing Approach

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2002 Annual Conference


Montreal, Canada

Publication Date

June 16, 2002

Start Date

June 16, 2002

End Date

June 19, 2002



Conference Session

Freshman Curriculum Development

Page Count


Page Numbers

7.563.1 - 7.563.4



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Paper Authors

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Jeffrey Connor

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Jean Kampe

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Main Menu Session 2553

First Year Engineering at a Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University: A Changing Approach

Jeffrey B. Connor, J. C. Malzahn Kampe Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Over the past 50 years, engineering education has undergone a shift from an emphasis of experimental and hands-on learning to theoretical, lecture based instruction. The engineering education community is nearing consensus that the pendulum has swung too far. Our students and the industries we serve make the need for change clear, and Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering is implementing new methods of instruction. More specifically, the first year engineering program at Virginia Tech is in the process of undergoing significant modification in both our approach and emphasis in educating our students.

This paper discusses the past, present, and future efforts of Virginia Tech’s Engineering Fundamentals Division in implementing these changes. First, a brief background of our recent endeavors to provide hands-on and early design activities is presented. A snapshot of our current programs detailing lessons learned and successes follows, and the final section discusses the short to medium range goals of the Engineering Fundamental Division.


At Virginia Tech, all first-year engineering students are admitted as general engineering students, and they select a major at the end of the freshman year. The first year curriculum is essentially identical for all students and the Division of Engineering Fundamentals serves as their home. The Division’s 13 faculty teach the two first-year engineering classes (EF1015 and EF1016) and a variety of sophomore level programming and graphics classes. EF1015 and EF1016 are both 2 credit hour courses typically offered in the fall and spring, respectively. In addition to teaching, EF faculty are the advisors of the 1200+ first year students.


Until the fall of 2001, EF1015 topics included ethics, the engineering profession, problem solving, programming with MatLab, statics; material balance; electricity; and energy. Traditional EF1016 topics were design theory, graphics theory, freehand sketching, computer graphics using AutoDesk’s Mechanical Desktop, and a final design project. Both courses were taught in a 32 seat classroom with an instructor’s computer and 16 monitors. A combination of PowerPoint slides, overhead transparencies, and a conventional blackboard was used - essentially a traditional lecture format.

A pilot program1 was conducted in the fall of 2000 to assess the efficacy of providing a number of hands-on activities. Two instructors and 240 students participated in the fall of 2000 and the results were positive. When compared with students in a traditional setting, the pilot program students were significantly more excited about engineering and their perception of learning was

Proceedings of the 2002 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright Ó 2002, American Society for Engineering Education

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Connor, J., & Kampe, J. (2002, June), First Year Engineering At A Virginia Polytechnic Institute And State University: A Changing Approach Paper presented at 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada. 10.18260/1-2--10589

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