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Integrating Applications In The Teaching Of Fundamental Concepts

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Trends in Mechanical Engineering

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.760.1 - 13.760.10



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Paper Authors


Patricia Campbell Campbell-Kibler Associates, Inc

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Patricia B. Campbell, President of Campbell-Kibler Associates, Inc, has been involved in educational research and evaluation with a focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and issues of race/ethnicity, gender and disability since the mid 1970's. Dr. Campbell, formerly a professor of research, measurement and statistics at Georgia State University, has authored more than 100 publications.

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Eann Patterson Michigan State University

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Eann Patterson taught Mechanics of Solids for twenty years at the University of Sheffield, England where he was also Director of Teaching and Learning for Engineering and later Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Currently, he is Professor and Chair of Mechanical Engineering at Michigan State University.

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Ilene Busch-Vishniac McMaster University

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Ilene Busch-Vishniac is the Provost and Vice President (Academic) of McMaster University, the institution credited with the creation of problem-based learning. She has led a project to revamp the curriculum in mechanical engineering programs in order to attract and retain a more diverse community of students while maintaining or enhancing technical rigor. In addition, Dr. Busch-Vishniac is known for her work in acoustics, particularly her recent work on quieting hospitals.

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Tom Kibler Campbell-Kibler Associates, Inc

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Tom R. Kibler, Vice President, Campbell-Kibler Associates, Inc., has been a computer professional for over 30 years. His work is on institutional change for universities with a focus on math and science education and web based course evaluations as well as on using technology to enhance evidence development and information use in non profit agencies. He was formerly Vice President of Symmetrix, an reengineering consulting company.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Integrating Applications in the Teaching of Fundamental Concepts


Student retention through to the successful completion of an undergraduate degree in engineering is of increasing concern to educators, policy makers, and, of course, students. It has been estimated that only half of those entering an undergraduate engineering program go on to complete the degree.1 This is particularly low when one considers that the bar to enter an engineering program is often higher than for other programs.2 By 2007, Dean, Anthony, and Vahala reported that the retention of engineering students had become a major undertaking for most institutions.3 As one of the largest engineering disciplines, awarding 21% of the 2007 engineering bachelor’s degrees,4 retention is a particular concern in Mechanical Engineering.

There are a variety of factors related to student retention, with grades and student interest being among the strongest. Grades, of course, are strongly correlated with retention but so is student interest. Studies of retention in engineering have found that over half of the students who left engineering either came to dislike studying it or lost interest in what they felt the profession offered.5

The use of “real life applications” in basic engineering courses is one possible way to both make the courses more interesting and to raise grades. Increasing student interest and grades has the potential to increase student retention. Integrating applications into the teaching of fundamental concepts has already been found to increase women’s recruitment and retention at Carnegie Mellon in computer science6 and at Drexel in engineering7.

As part of an National Science Foundation-sponsored project to change the undergraduate ME curriculum to make it more attractive to a diverse student community, the use of “real life” applications to teach fundamental ME concepts was explored. A series of applications-based lesson plans—covering concepts in solids, fluids, and design—were developed by ME faculty members from eight participating universities and tested in terms of their impact on students and on participating faculty. The participating colleges and universities were Johns Hopkins University; California State University, Los Angles; Michigan State University; Smith College; University of Washington; Stevens Institute of Technology; Howard University; and Tuskegee University.


There were several criteria that the applications and lesson plans had to meet. The first was that the applications needed to be familiar to the students. As Sue Rosser explained,

I see math classes where vectors are taught using sails and sailboats. This may work very well in [Maine]. I am originally from the Midwest, and I can tell you that there are a lot of students who have never seen a sailboat. They may never be able to understand the idea that you are talking about vectors and listen to the math. Because they are so panicked over the fact they know they are not familiar with the example, they think they can’t understand what this person is going to be talking about.8

Campbell, P., & Patterson, E., & Busch-Vishniac, I., & Kibler, T. (2008, June), Integrating Applications In The Teaching Of Fundamental Concepts Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3332

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