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Teaching Freshman Engineering Using Design Projects And Laboratory Exercises To Increase Retention

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2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

Emerging Trends in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.1180.1 - 9.1180.8



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Paper Authors

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Brian Thomas

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Carolyn Skurla

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Walter Bradley

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

Teaching Freshman Engineering Using Design Projects and Laboratory Exercises to Increase Retention

Carolyn Skurla, Brian Thomas, Walter L. Bradley,

Baylor University


The primary goal of the freshman engineering course at Baylor University is to help students to appreciate the exciting career possibilities that a degree in engineering will provide them. Obviously this can be accomplished with descriptions of what engineers do, including interesting videos and speakers from industry; however, we believe that the best way for students to understand what engineers actually do is to give them the opportunity to practice engineering. The analogy to teaching swimming is appropriate. Teaching swimming with a textbook, excellent videos, and even presentations from Olympic swimmers cannot substitute for actually getting into the water. The challenge is to provide meaningful experiences of engineering practice to students with very limited technical backgrounds.

In this paper, we will share the approach that we are developing to allow our students to practice real engineering in their freshman engineering class and to allow them to make an informed decision on whether this is the best career choice for them. We will provide a detailed description of our two design-build-test projects as well as give a more cursory description of our laboratory experiences. Finally, we will document the increase in retention that is occurring as we continue to develop this approach.


We begin our class by defining engineers as “individuals who utilize their knowledge of science, mathematics and economics combined with experiments to solve technical problems that confront society.” We have made a conscious decision to build our freshman engineering course around laboratory experiences and two design-build-test projects that will bring this definition to life.

We (the authors) began this journey of improvement by brainstorming laboratory experiences and design projects that might be feasible for freshmen engineering students and could provide an existential appreciation for how engineers “do what they do”. From this larger group of possible activities, we then selected two design-build-test projects and four laboratory experiences. The design projects and laboratory experiences were selected to include both electrical and mechanical engineering topics, because this is the first engineering course for both

Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2004, American Society for Engineering Education

Thomas, B., & Skurla, C., & Bradley, W. (2004, June), Teaching Freshman Engineering Using Design Projects And Laboratory Exercises To Increase Retention Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--13081

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