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Lessons Learned From Moving a Civil Engineering Fundamentals Course From Second-Year to the First Year

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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

First-Year Programs: First-Year Experiences

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Stephanie L. Walkup PE Villanova University Orcid 16x16

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Stephanie Walkup is an Assistant Teaching Professor at Villanova University. She obtained both her BS and MS degrees from Lehigh University and her PhD from Villanova University. Her research interests include internal and external reinforcement of concrete structures using fiber reinforced polymer (FRP) materials, repair of deficient metal-plate connected wood trusses, and instructional methodologies for introductory engineering courses. She serves on ACI Committee 440 – Fiber Reinforced Polymer Reinforcement, where her specific research interests include the seismic retrofit of non-ductile reinforced concrete building columns using FRP jackets and the long-term deflection of concrete members reinforced with internal FRP bars. Prior to her academic role, Dr. Walkup worked for Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates (WJE) a national firm specializing in forensic engineering. She investigated complex issues and failures relating to a variety of structures including residential, government, and commercial buildings, parking garages, temporary scaffolds, telecommunications towers, and driving range netting systems.

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John Komlos Villanova University

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John Komlos, Ph.D., is a Teaching Professor with the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at Villanova University. Dr. Komlos teaches environmental engineering as well as general civil engineering courses. His research examines the fate and transport of contaminants in natural and engineered systems with an emphasis on water quality, geochemistry, and hydrodynamics. His current research focus is on subsurface metals and nutrient retention mechanisms as they pertain to pollutant removal from stormwater abatement systems.

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Kevin A. Waters P.E. Villanova University

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Dr. Kevin Waters is an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Villanova University. He teaches numerous undergraduate and graduate courses in water resources engineering including fluid mechanics, hydrology & hydraulics, and open channel hydraulics. Dr. Waters also teaches general civil engineering courses that utilize industry software such as ArcGIS and AutoCAD.

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This Complete Evidence-based Practice paper will present the results of multiple assessments implemented to gage the success of transitioning a traditionally taught second-year civil engineering fundamentals course to the first-year. A significant part of the analysis was assessments related to civil engineering tools taught in the course, including AutoCAD, ArcGIS, Excel, and surveying. The course was moved because engineering students at XXXX University were previously provided a common first-year experience with each engineering student receiving essentially the same first-year curriculum regardless of discipline. A recent change to have only a common engineering first semester with the second semester first-year open to adding discipline-specific courses provided the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at XXXX University the opportunity to move a course previously taught in the first semester of the second-year to the second semester of the first-year. The course introduces students to tools and techniques, such as surveying, understanding maps and plan sets, and field sampling and data analysis, as required for their civil engineering curriculum as well as throughout their professional career. This course was expanded from three credits to four credits, with additional content that exposes students to the five different subdisciplines of civil engineering. The cohesion of the subdisciplines is demonstrated in a semester long design project.

Assessments of the first-year students quantifying the students’ proficiency in the different topics, including surveying, ArcGIS, and AutoCAD were performed after each respective learning module and compared to assessments of the second-year students prior to transitioning the course. In addition, student surveys were administered to assess their self-identified proficiency in the different technologies both before they were introduced/reinforced and at the completion of the course, as well as their perception of the importance of these technologies to complete the semester-long civil engineering design project. Finally, the students’ hours worked per week were compared for the respective first- and second-year courses. One-tailed unequal variance t-tests were used throughout the assessments to determine statistical significance. The data was considered statistically different when the p-value was less than 0.05.

Self-assessments of students’ proficiency in Excel, AutoCAD, ArcGIS, and Surveying were performed pre-course and post-course with a 1 (no proficiency) through 5 (very proficient) rating. Results indicate that the students’ self-assessed proficiency in AutoCAD and ArcGIS at the beginning of the course for first-year students was less than the self-assessed proficiency at the beginning of the course for second-year students (p-value < 2.5X10-6); whereas, there was no statistical difference in students’ self-assessed proficiency for Excel or Surveying (p-value > 0.055) at the beginning of the course. However, the post-course assessment showed no statistically significant difference between the first- and second-year students’ self-assessed proficiencies in Excel, AutoCAD, ArcGIS, and Surveying (p-value > 0.25). Therefore, while first-year students entered with less self-assessed proficiency, they were able to feel as confident using these technologies as their second-year counterparts at the conclusion of the course. Surveys indicated that the average hours per week that first and second-year students worked outside of the classroom throughout the respective courses was comparable (3.2 hours per week), demonstrating that first-year students achieved larger growth in self-assessed proficiency with the same amount of time committed to the course.

There was no statistical difference (p-value > 0.063) between the first and second-year students’ post-course perception of the level of essentialness of Excel and ArcGIS to complete the semester long civil engineering design project. Surveying and AutoCAD were perceived by the first-year students as being less essential compared to the second-year students’ perception (p-value < 0.002). Assessment of student work indicates that both first- and second-year students had comparable attainment of ArcGIS proficiency (p-value = 0.16). However, attainment of surveying and AutoCAD proficiency was less for first-year students compared to second-year students (p-value < 0.035).

Overall, the assessment of student work indicates that first-year students did not attain the same level of proficiency as second-year students for the materials assessed even though first-year students felt as confident with the technologies as their second-year counterparts. It is interesting that the first-year students scored lower in the same two topics that they perceived as being less essential to their semester project. Additional research is needed to determine if these trends are also observed in future offerings of the course.

Walkup, S. L., & Komlos, J., & Waters, K. A. (2021, July), Lessons Learned From Moving a Civil Engineering Fundamentals Course From Second-Year to the First Year Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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