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Revision Of A First Semester Course To Focus On Fundamentals Of Engineering

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

FPD1 -- Implementing a First-Year Engineering Course

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.1095.1 - 11.1095.11



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Paper Authors


Michael Hagenberger Valparaiso University

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Michael Hagenberger is an Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering at Valparaiso University. His area of scientific research is reinforced and prestressed concrete structures and his teaching interests include first-year courses and the use of scientific visualization technology in undergraduate engineering course.

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Barbara Engerer Valparaiso University

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Barbara Engerer is the Freshman Engineering Coordinator at Valparaiso University. She advises the freshman engineering students and coordinates the first-year courses. She was the first woman to receive a national award in the AIChE National Student Problem Contest.

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Doug Tougaw Valparaiso University

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Doug Tougaw is the Leitha and Willard Richardson Professor of Engineering and Department Chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Valparaiso University. His area of scientific research is nanotechnology, and his teaching interests include first-year courses and the interaction between engineering and business.

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

Revision of a First-Semester Course to Focus on Fundamentals of Engineering

1. Introduction The first semester of a student’s academic career is always very important, and it may be even more important for an engineering student. From increasing academic rigor to increased freedom to make important life-affecting choices, the first semester of an engineering program holds great opportunity to change a student’s life. Along with this high degree of importance comes a high degree of flexibility, because there are many different ways in which a first engineering course can be structured and taught. Each of these different philosophies has its benefits and liabilities, and optimizing the first-semester engineering course is still a very active area of curricular research.

In this paper, we will first present an overview of the many different philosophies being used to teach first-year engineering students are programs throughout the country, highlighting the rationale for each. Next, a summary of the previous first-semester programs at Valparaiso will be presented, along with a discussion of the revision process that took place over a period of many months. Finally, we will describe the resulting course, which was taught for the first time in the fall semester of 2005, including an assessment of its effectiveness and lessons learned for future improvement of the course.

2. Philosophies in First-Year Engineering Education Several very different approaches to teaching first-year students have emerged over the past several decades. Each of them has merit, and each has arisen as a result of real needs of first- semester students. Although the following analysis is far from comprehensive, it does provide an overview of the different philosophies being applied to the education of first-year engineering students.

Traditionally, first-year engineering courses at some universities1 have been similar to other “freshman orientation” courses in other disciplines that focus on academic survival skills such as time management, studying for exams, and balancing work and social life. Such courses do not explicitly focus on engineering topics, but provide engineering students with skills that will be valuable to them throughout their academic and professional careers.

Another traditional approach for first courses in engineering is to provide students with knowledge of the different engineering disciplines necessary to select a major and, eventually, a career. Courses at universities such as Vanderbilt2 and Purdue3 provide such background knowledge, helping their students to make an informed decision about their choice of major. Frequently, such courses are designed in a modular structure, such that students can complete different modules and different hands-on projects based on their particular interests. Enabling students to make an informed choice of major was one of the most important learning objectives of the first-semester engineering course at Valparaiso University until 2004, and it is still a secondary purpose of the course.

Hagenberger, M., & Engerer, B., & Tougaw, D. (2006, June), Revision Of A First Semester Course To Focus On Fundamentals Of Engineering Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--795

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