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Matlab And Freshman Engineering

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1999 Annual Conference


Charlotte, North Carolina

Publication Date

June 20, 1999

Start Date

June 20, 1999

End Date

June 23, 1999



Page Count


Page Numbers

4.378.1 - 4.378.6

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Paper Authors

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Patrick Devens

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

Session 3353

MATLAB & Freshman Engineering

Patrick E. Devens Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University


Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University’s (VPI&SU) College of Engineering has made the switch. MATLAB1 is now the problem-solving software used by the freshman engineering program. The reasons for switching to MATLAB, how MATLAB was integrated into the existing introductory course, and some lessons learned after implementing MATLAB are described below. The purpose is to show both positive and negative aspects of switching to MATLAB in conjunction with recommended actions to effectively incorporate MATLAB into an existing course.


The switch to MATLAB was a result of three major issues. First, the various departments within the College of Engineering desired different software expertise. Although the freshman program was utilizing both TK Solver2 and FORTRAN during a freshman’s first semester, some departments preferred that C++ and/or MS Excel3 be taught. Second, the Department of Mathematics’ software requirements were different from the College of Engineering. The Department of Mathematics required either MATLAB or Mathematica4, as determined by individual instructors. Third, engineering students were being swamped with requirements to learn software. Since the College of Engineering has no computer knowledge prerequisite for entry, most freshman engineering students were required to learn and use computer communications, word processing, spreadsheets, engineering and mathematics problem-solving software, and a higher level programming language during their first semester. During the second semester, students were additionally required to learn a computer-aided-design program. As a result, students were overwhelmed with an abundance of program syntax and formats. It is understandable that many students had problems during their freshman year. The question was how to best meet the expectations of the College of Engineering and Department of Mathematics while still providing each engineering student a challenging, yet manageable, freshman year.

College of Engineering actions resolved the first major issue. As part of an ongoing review of departmental requirements, the freshman and sophomore curricula were altered. A freshman engineering student is no longer required to take a higher-level programming language as part of his/her first semester introductory engineering course. The programming requirement has been shifted to beyond the student’s first semester. The engineering student now takes a separate course in either FORTRAN or C++ based upon her/his probable engineering major. As a result, a student is generally required to learn two software packages during the second semester. The first is the department required higher-level programming language. The second is the introduction to engineering design software package, Mechanical Desktop5. The benefit is the removal of the higher-level programming burden from the freshman engineering student’s first semester transition period into college.

Devens, P. (1999, June), Matlab And Freshman Engineering Paper presented at 1999 Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina.

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