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General Engineering Plus: Creating Community in a Flexible yet Technical Engineering Degree

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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

Multidisciplinary First-year Experiences

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.816.1 - 26.816.18



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Paper Authors


Malinda S. Zarske University of Colorado, Boulder

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Malinda Zarske is the Engineering Master Teacher for the General Engineering Plus program at the University of Colorado Boulder. A former high school and middle school science and math teacher, she has advanced degrees in teaching secondary science from the Johns Hopkins University and in civil engineering from CU-Boulder. Dr. Zarske teaches engineering design in First-Year Engineering Projects and Engineering Projects for the Community, a sophomore-level course focusing on humanitarian engineering. In addition, she teaches STEP 1 and STEP 2 education courses through CU Teach Engineering, a new General Engineering Plus program specifically designed to prepare students to earn a secondary math or science teacher licensure through engineering. She manages and mentors graduate and undergraduate engineering Fellows who teach in local K-12 classrooms through the Integrated Teaching and Learning Program’s TEAMS initiative, is on the development team for the TeachEngineering digital library, and is faculty advisor for CU-Boulder's Society of Women Engineers (SWE).

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Jaclyn L. Cunitz University of Colorado Boulder

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Jaclyn L. Cunitz is an undergraduate student in the department of General Engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her emphasis is Aerospace Engineering and her concentration is Business.

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Marissa H. Forbes University of Colorado, Boulder

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Marissa H. Forbes is a doctoral candidate in civil engineering at the University of Colorado, Boulder with an engineering education research focus. She previously taught middle school science and engineering and wrote K-12 STEM curricula while an NSF GK-12 graduate engineering fellow at CU. With a master’s degree in civil engineering she went on to teach advanced placement and algebra-based physics for the Denver School of Science and Technology (DSST), where she also created and taught a year-long, design-based DSST engineering course for seniors. Before beginning her PhD work, Marissa returned to CU, where she supervised K-12 fellows and worked with educators engaged in the creation of K-12 engineering curriculum for the TeachEngineering digital library.

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Jacquelyn F. Sullivan University of Colorado-Boulder

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Jacquelyn Sullivan is founding co-director of the General Engineering Plus degree program in the University of Colorado Boulder’s College of Engineering and Applied Science. The newly-launched, design-based, flexible GE+ engineering degree was initially created as the "home" for CU Teach Engineering, a unique initiative to produce secondary science or math teachers through a design-based engineering degree-with the ultimate goal of broadening participation among those who attend engineering college. Sullivan was conferred as an ASEE Fellow in 2011 and was awarded NAE’s 2008 Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education.

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General Engineering Plus: Building Community Into A Flexible Yet Technical College DegreeBelonging to a community is an important part of the undergraduate student experience. Specificto engineering undergraduate programs, communities allow for “opportunities for deeperunderstanding and integration of the material they are learning, and more interaction with oneanother and their teachers as fellow participants in the learning enterprise [1].” Thesecommunities can be organized in diverse ways — including along common courses, commoncareer interests, and extracurricular interests — and help to increase group identity, programcohesiveness, and program uniqueness [1]. Several studies also link learning communities tobeneficial educational outcomes, including increased retention rates of first-year students, higherfirst-year GPAs, and lower incidence of academic probation [2].A query of engineering undergraduate students at a large public university inquired as to theirdegree options and career plans. Not surprisingly, there exists a strong student desire forflexibility within their engineering undergraduate degree program to incorporate other interestsinternal and external to engineering. Support for a multidisciplinary general engineering degreeis strong among students at this university, including a large percentage of female and minoritystudent populations. With the intent to broaden participation of students who stay the course inengineering degrees, this university piloted a new, flexible undergraduate engineering degreeprogram presented in this study.This general engineering program facilitates significant curricular choice and customizability forstudents, allowing for a deep-dive into both an engineering discipline and concurrent studies in acomplementary subject. Comprehensive degree requirements include a design-based engineeringcore, choice of a “traditional” engineering emphasis — including mechanical, aerospace, civil,environmental, architectural, or electrical engineering — coupled with a customizableconcentration, such as secondary teacher licensure, business, or foreign language. Additionally,this degree includes hands-on design experiences throughout, nurturing a solid foundation ofvaluable professional skills such as teamwork and innovation for its students.This research aims to discover if and how a learning community and group identity can beformed between engineering students with diverse career interests enrolled in a new, design-based multidisciplinary engineering degree program at a large public university. Given thediverse student experiences inherent in this degree program built around extensive,multidisciplinary curricular flexibility, the paper addresses the questions, “Is it possible to buildcommunity and support group identity formation between students who have little-to-nodesignated time together?” and “How can a sense of interconnectedness and community becreated within a group that is intentionally diverse?”Initial data indicates that students in this new degree program are still finding each other andforming their community. Using mixed-methods analysis informed by current education research— including surveys and small focus groups — we explore the ways in which community isnurtured and hindered amongst the first-year and returning students enrolled in the program. Theanalysis also considers interest in types of community activities revealed in several small focusgroups. Finally, suggestions are made on when to initiate community development and howengineering communities can be optimized for students within and between departments.References [1] Watford, B. A., & Artis, S. (2004). “Hypatia: A Residential Program for Freshman Women in Engineering,” Proceedings, ASEE Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, UT. [2] Lockwood, P. R., & Hunt, E. M. (2013). “Engineering Learning Communities,” Proceedings, ASEE Annual Conference, Atlanta, GA.

Zarske, M. S., & Cunitz, J. L., & Forbes, M. H., & Sullivan, J. F. (2015, June), General Engineering Plus: Creating Community in a Flexible yet Technical Engineering Degree Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24153

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