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Introducing A Two Semester Research Course In The Freshman Year

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Mechanical Engineering Poster Session

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.798.1 - 14.798.15



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Paper Authors


Wael Mokhtar Grand Valley State University

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Assistant Professor,
School of Engineering

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

Introducing a Two-Semester Research Course in the Freshman Year


Engineering schools have been using capstone projects to introduce the students to ‘real world’ applications and break the barrier between theory and practice. It is usually in the form of a two- semester course where the students use the first semester to develop the soft skills needed for the project in terms of project management and communication. Also the first semester is used for research and design. The second semester is used for building and testing of the final product. This approach showed success in meeting the objectives. However, there is a usual complaint from the students about the time spent in developing the soft skills during the first semester which affects the actual starting of the project. To overcome that, some schools introduce small projects in lower level courses (freshman through junior year). These projects support the material of the courses by introducing a practical application. They also help the students to develop the soft skills needed before they reach the senior year. This approach also showed success in several engineering programs.

In the present work, a research two-semester course is introduced in the freshman year. The course is a small-scale model of the senior capstone project. The main objective of the course is to improve student retention and to recruit more students to one of the engineering clubs. The focus of the course is to introduce students to the project management skills. The major difference between this course and the senior capstone project course is the technical level of the students. To overcome that, the theoretical part of the project was assigned to a sophomore level course where these students have the needed technical skills for the project. The course was offered as a one-hour lecture for the first semester and three-hour laboratory during the second semester. The outline of the course is designed to provide the students with enough guidance and allow them to have space for creativity and to develop problem-solving skills. The project assigned for the course was redesigning and building an off road vehicle for the SAE mini-Baja competition. The vehicle was originally designed and built by a senior project team during the previous year. The theoretical part of the project in terms of load and stress analysis was assigned to a Mechanics of Materials course. A senior project team was also designing and building a new vehicle in the same year, which provides another source of technical information for the freshman students enrolled in the course. At the end of the course, the students successfully completed the project and competed in the SAE mini-Baja in summer 2008. The paper describes the objectives and the structure of the course and the project stages through the two semesters. It also discusses the tools used to guide the students through the project such as weekly meeting, design review sessions, peer evaluation, and design and budget reports.


Engineering is building equipment, this how freshman students view it. As they start their engineering education, they need to develop a solid foundation in mathematics and sciences before reaching core engineering courses. At this stage, some students are not mature enough to understand that, and they may think that engineering is not for them. This may be true for some


Mokhtar, W. (2009, June), Introducing A Two Semester Research Course In The Freshman Year Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5825

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