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Freshman Engineering: Current Status and Potential for the Future

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

First-Year Programs Division Technical Session 6: Design and Design Chanllenges

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors

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James B. Riggs Texas Tech University Orcid 16x16

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This paper is an evidence based study of freshman engineering based on a number of interview with course coordinators as well as a theoretical analysis of the problems. The one common denominator for freshman engineering courses is that they are all different. They range from a single class taught by single professor in an engineering department to 2000 to 3000 students from an engineering college broken into a number of very large sections each year. The emphasis of these classes ranges from teaching a programming language to teaching design using a team environment to engineering analysis. Many times programming languages are a primary emphasis of these courses with a single platform or a combination of platforms being taught, including MATLAB, C, C++, Fortran, Excel, visual basic, Java and Python. There is clearly no consensus on what or how freshman should be taught. By examining the goals of these courses we can better understand how the current state evolved and where we can go from here. The goals of these course in general involve preparing the freshman student for the remainder of their academic and professional career and take the form of teaching students what engineering really is and why it is important to society, how to work in teams, how to implement design, how to program a computer, how to solve engineering equations, how to solve problems and how to develop models. While these are noble goals, most students fail to understand the significance of what they have been exposed to and how it relates to the courses that they will be taking in their sophomore, junior and senior years. Moreover, the emphasis of these courses can distort the student’s perspective of what engineering is, e.g., many times the students that take classes that primarily emphasize design leave these classes thinking that design is the primary activity that engineers perform regardless of the type of engineer. To the professor that understands the full extent of design, the design experiences in these classes are perfectly logical, but the uninitiated student lacks the overall perspective to appreciate what they have been exposed to. Based on this perspective, we will examine the full range of engineering fundamentals (i.e., ethics, problem solving, modeling, analysis, design, economics and communications) in an effort to layout an approach that prepares freshman students for their future careers in a manner that is consistent with their current knowledge and experience. That is, in a general sense engineering reduces to either engineering analysis or engineering design both of which rely on problem solving and modeling. Engineering economics provides a means to consistently evaluate the performance of an engineering project by using optimization while engineering communications allows for the effective dissimilation of the engineer’s results. Finally, engineering ethics provides a means for navigating complex legal, social and ethical issues. Moreover, we will demonstrate how this approach can be applied and still expose the student to teamwork, design, programming, etc. This approach provides a simple, but powerful structure with which to understand engineering and its practice. In this manner, the student will be able to understand how each class that they take in the future relates to their overall goal of becoming a successful engineer and after they graduate and become practicing engineers, they can continue to effectively use this structure to build they base of knowledge.

Riggs, J. B. (2016, June), Freshman Engineering: Current Status and Potential for the Future Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26962

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