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Motivating and Investing in the Freshmen: Paving the Way for the Future

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Innovative Pedagogies for Facilitating Student-driven Learning Experiences

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

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Paper Authors


Allen C. Estes California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

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Allen C. Estes is a Professor and Head for the Architectural Engineering Department at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. Until January 2007, Dr. Estes was the Director of the Civil Engineering Program at the United States Military Academy (USMA). He is a registered Professional Engineer in Virginia. Al Estes received a B.S. degree from USMA in1978, M.S. degrees in StructuralEngineering and in Construction Management from Stanford University in 1987 and a Ph.D. degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1997.

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John W. Lawson California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

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John Lawson is Associate Professor in Architectural Engineering at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, where he primarily teaches structural design courses to undergraduates. He obtained his Bachelors of Science in Architectural Engineering from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and his Masters of Science in Structural Engineering from Stanford University. He is a licensed Professional Engineer and Structural Engineer in California and Arizona with over 25 years of design experience.

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This paper describes an introductory freshman experience course, “Introduction to Building Systems” that was seven years in the making and meets several critical goals for this engineering department. As one of their very first courses, this two-unit course is taken in the Fall quarter by every incoming freshman, which translates into an annual enrollment of 50 to 120 students, depending on the year. Meeting twice a week, the first meeting is in a large lecture format where all of the students are together and are introduced to the topic for the week which includes structural systems, timber, concrete, steel, earth/foundations, building envelopes, electrical systems, and mechanical systems. The second meeting is a two-hour activity where the students are sub-divided into separate sections of not more than 24 students. During these hands-on activities, students place and test concrete anchor bolts, build and test wooden connections, weld steel plates and test their strength, complete an exercise using funicular shapes, use the digital fabrication lab and 3-D printers to create and test a truss structure, create a video on a past building system failure or disaster, measure slopes and follow the drainage of a specified area, wire an electrical circuit, and tour the electrical/mechanical systems of a major building.

The course is team-taught by a tenured faculty member and the department head. Industry support from Hilti and Simpson StrongTie provides materials and expertise for two of the activities. University support assists with the welding, digital fabrication, and building tour activities. Some of the activities become round-robin stations to further sub-divide the students into 8 or 12 person groups to allow every student to physically participate. The culminating exercise involves the design and construction of a structure using K’nex toys where students experience the design-bid-build project delivery method by role playing the architect, project manager and contractor.

The course provides the opportunity to introduce engineering ethics and professional responsibility to the freshman. The students participate in a learning-style inventory to better understand how they learn, thus introducing the goal of life-long learning. The course deliberately tries to develop the camaraderie of a cohort at the earliest possible stage and allows students to feel that they are part of the department and the major. It also provides motivation and excitement for the profession that lies ahead while the students are working their way through calculus, physics and architecture studios.

A review of the literature addresses how this course aligns with and differs from other existing introductory experience courses. Refinements in the course have been made based on formalized student assessment data. Over time, the effect of the course will be assessed through retention data.

This abstract is specifically being submitted for the CE Division session “Challenging Courses and Content” but would be appropriate for other sessions as well.

Estes, A. C., & Lawson, J. W. (2017, June), Motivating and Investing in the Freshmen: Paving the Way for the Future Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28689

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