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Implementing an Engineering Math Curriculum Sequence: Preliminary Results and Lessons Learned

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

The Best of First-year Programs Division

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


John Charles Minor Clemson University

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John Minor is the Associate Director of the General Engineering Program at Clemson University. He holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Iowa State University. He has worked at Clemson University since 1998 working in IT and teaching part time until 2008 when he switched to teaching full time. He developed and taught the one of the current graphics courses taught in General Engineering as well as teaching the courses in the first year engineering curriculum.

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Elizabeth Anne Stephan Clemson University

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Dr. Elizabeth Stephan is the Director of Academics for the General Engineering Program at Clemson University. She holds a B.S. and a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Akron. Since 2002, she has taught, developed, and now coordinates the first-year curriculum. She is the lead author of the "Thinking Like an Engineer" textbook, currently in its 4th edition.

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Abigail T. Stephan Clemson University

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Abigail Stephan is a doctoral candidate in the Learning Sciences program at Clemson University. Broadly, her research interests include intergenerational learning in informal settings and self-directed learning. Since 2017, Abigail has been the graduate assistant for the General Engineering Learning Community (GELC), a program that supports first-year engineering students in their development of self-regulation and time management skills, effective learning strategies, and positive habits of mind.

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This Complete Evidence-Based Practice paper focuses on a recently adopted engineering math curriculum sequence for a select population of first-year engineering students at Clemson University. Broadly, the biopsychosocial processes of learning are integrated and interdisciplinary. At the college level, students are expected to take the content they are learning in one discipline, connect it to real-world applications, and transfer it to another discipline for deep learning to occur. The ability to transfer knowledge across various contexts is critical for engineering students as they prepare for careers in an increasingly interconnected workforce [1], [2]. However, a gap exists in the mathematical maturity of many incoming undergraduate engineering students as they struggle to understand the purpose of the math content they are expected to master and its relevance to authentic issues in society [3]. Engineering students often have trouble connecting their interests and future career goals to STEM concepts, especially math, when the context is removed [4]. The result is decreased student motivation, academic performance, and retention within engineering courses and majors at the university level.  

At many institutions, the discrepancy in math and engineering departments’ expectations has led to frustration among faculty, further exacerbating negative student outcomes related to motivation and retention. As a solution, an integrated engineering math curriculum, often taught by the engineering faculty at a given institution, has been proposed and even implemented at several colleges and universities [4], [5], [6]. A notable example of this curriculum shift occurred at Wright State University over fifteen years ago. Engineering students at Wright State identified as at-risk of not passing take an engineering math course as a prerequisite to the traditional calculus sequence. The engineering math course emphasizes the application of math concepts and provides students with an additional semester to grow in their educational and mathematical maturity to be better able to handle the cognitive load required by calculus. This approach has been shown to increase students’ academic success in future STEM courses [7]. 

At Clemson University, an engineering math course has been created to ameliorate a similar problem related to the disconnect between traditional first-year math concepts and engineering student retention for students within the General Engineering Learning Community (GELC) [8], [9]. However, the engineering math approach taken by Clemson’s General Engineering department for the GELC is more extensive than past implementations, with cohorting in sections of other STEM courses, co-enrollment in a learning strategies and professional skills course, and peer learning consultants recruited from previous GELC cohorts. The ultimate goal of these efforts is to increase student retention in engineering majors and strengthen students’ skills as future engineering professionals. Identified as “not calculus ready” by the university math placement exam and SAT/ACT math scores, eligible students are approached during summer orientation sessions and voluntarily enroll in the program upon their entry into the university in the fall semester. 

Previously documented benefits of an engineering math course include augmented student motivation to learn and apply math concepts, increased student retention and graduation in engineering, and diminished discrepancies between students in initial math preparation upon entry to the university [6], [7]. This paper expounds on preliminary student outcomes within our program and provides insight into the implementation of engineering math courses.

Minor, J. C., & Stephan, E. A., & Stephan, A. T. (2021, July), Implementing an Engineering Math Curriculum Sequence: Preliminary Results and Lessons Learned Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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