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Making a First-Year Impression: Engineering Projects That Affect and Connect

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

FPD 7: Beyond Course Content

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.880.1 - 24.880.17



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Paper Authors


Susan F Freeman Northeastern University

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Susan Freeman, Beverly Jaeger, and Richard Whalen are members of Northeastern University’s Gateway Team, a group of teaching faculty expressly devoted to the first-year Engineering Program at Northeastern University. The focus of this team is on providing a consistent, comprehensive, and constructive educational experience that endorses the student-centered, professional and practice-oriented mission of Northeastern University.

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Beverly Kris Jaeger Northeastern University

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Beverly Kris Jaeger, PhD has been a member of Northeastern University’s Gateway Team, a selected group of full-time faculty expressly devoted to the First-year Engineering Program at Northeastern University. Recently, she has joined the expanding Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at NU to continue teaching Simulation, Facilities Planning, Human-Machine Systems, and Senior Capstone Design. Dr. Jaeger has been the recipient of several honors in engineering education for both teaching and mentoring and has been involved in several award-wining engineering educational research initiatives through ASEE and beyon

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Richard Whalen Northeastern University

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Making a First-year Impression: Engineering Projects That Impact and ConnectAfter years of having passed through multiple assessments, iterations, and updates of the coreGeneral Engineering courses in the first-year program at a large urban university, severalengineering professors wondered the following, “With our engineering courses so full ofactivities, topics, and projects, how can we identify those elements that have the greatest impacton our students?” They decided it is time for a more detailed reflection on all that has been putin place in the first-year courses in order to identify which pieces are most effective ininfluencing, inspiring, and/or guiding our students into their particular pathways of engineering.At Unnamed University, the first-year engineering curriculum is fundamentally common for allmajors and students take an Engineering Design course and a Problem Solving and Computationcourse. There is pressure for these two introductory engineering courses to accomplish a myriadof things alongside content delivery, such as prepare students for college demands, expose themto the engineering majors, provide relevant hands-on and real-world projects, developalgorithmic and critical thinking skills, and get them excited about their engineering career path.There are a number and variety of projects accomplished by the students that are designed tomeet these multiple objectives and goals. In order to investigate the impacts of these projects,students were surveyed at the end of their first year. In addition to documenting their major –orundeclared status–, key elements of the survey asked students to identify which projects had themost impact on their decision to continue in engineering, which had the most influence on theirchoice of major, and which had served to connect them most closely to a major, or toengineering in general.The data seen in Figure 1 shows that the major design project has the strongest effect on thestudents, in impact, in choice of major and in connecting them to engineering. The data alsoshows that other projects have nearly as much effect, and that having a variety of projects servesto reach them all. None of the students said that none of the projects worked; in fact, many listedseveral projects in response to single questions and several different projects throughout each oftheir surveys. As we find so often in teaching, the same number of students wanted less of aproject type as the number who wanted more.Another trend in the data was that if a student knew what engineering major s/he wanted comingin to the program, there was typically one project that helped cement that choice, often related tothat major, and possibly another project that helped them determine what they did not want to do.Minor design projects, which are design-and-build are mentioned, along with weekly homeworkprograms, these are both listed in many categories. The responses show that certain projectsareperceived as connected to specific engineering majors, and participating in those has clearlyhelped students make decisions on those majors. In the comments, the students also mentionedthat they like the real-world applications, the hands-on aspects, and the sense that they wereseeing real engineering problems. A few students expressed that the two courses could beintegrated, thus wanting design and programming connected.The purpose of this paper is to show how to use these reflections to guide course and curriculumdevelopment in an intentional and efficient way. Many universities are using cornerstone designcourses, using hands-on projects, looking for real-world projects and problems to meet the manyobjectives named above. Understanding the impact of these projects and course elements caninform the addition, replacement and/or selection of them. Knowing what influences thestudents’ choices can guide what we emphasize or cover, what should be considered whendesigning new course elements for the future.

Freeman, S. F., & Jaeger, B. K., & Whalen, R. (2014, June), Making a First-Year Impression: Engineering Projects That Affect and Connect Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--22813

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