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Teaching Intro To Engineering In Context – Uva Engineering’s New Cornerstone

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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

11.1212.1 - 11.1212.8



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Paper Authors

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Dana Elzey University of Virginia

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

Teaching Intro to Engineering in context – UVA Engineering’s New Cornerstone Abstract

As anyone who has been there can tell you, there is probably no ‘thornier’ engineering design problem than that of the introductory course in engineering. Along with the traditional requirements that it provide students with a diverse set of fundamental understandings and skills, introduce them to engineering design and to the profession, and illustrate the role of science and analysis, this humble course is now burdened with a host of newly recognized needs. These include the ability to excite a wide range of students about engineering, motivating them to its study, and aiding in the retention of non-traditional engineering students. This paper discusses our efforts to redesign the University of Virginia’s Intro to Engineering to better meet all of these requirements, using the Engineering In Context approach. The EIC approach seeks to improve retention and the quality of learning through integration of context. Here, the critical contextual learning component is a semester-long, hands-on project (theme) emphasizing application of the engineering problem- solving method to a current challenge or opportunity, coupled with more focused consideration of problem identification and definition, and the potential impact of a successful solution.

In addition to being better able to meet the needs of students, this new cornerstone course is now more attractive to faculty, who are encouraged to draw on their own research and experience in selecting a theme for their students. Although the EIC approach, like problem-based learning, design integration and other techniques for linking theory and practice, is intended to counter the abstraction of technical knowledge and skills advocated by the ‘engineering science’ model of engineering education, context integration is seen as a potentially more comprehensive and unifying approach.


In response to dramatic changes in the demographics of entering engineering students, the intro to engineering course of today has become much more complex than it was even a decade ago, with a host of new requirements. Traditionally, the introduction to engineering course taken by entering first-year undergraduates has played a fairly modest role in the overall context of the undergraduate engineering curriculum, with primary attention given to developing the student’s general skills at setting up and solving technical problems, emphasizing the importance of a methodical approach, application of appropriate theory, consistent handling of units and proper interpretation and presentation of results. However, dramatic changes have brought new forces to bear, which are reshaping this traditional component of the curriculum. These changes include increasing numbers of women and minorities in engineering (and the need to increase them further), better preparedness of high school graduates for college-level study, and heightened competition among institutions and fields for the best students. Entering engineering students are therefore more diverse, more demanding, and more ‘consumer-conscious’ and sophisticated in the evaluation of career alternatives than ever. So in addition to providing students with the fundamentals of technical problem solving, the intro to engineering course must now provide an effective learning experience for a much more diverse group, and actively motivate students to the study and practice of engineering, thereby improving retention.

Elzey, D. (2006, June), Teaching Intro To Engineering In Context – Uva Engineering’s New Cornerstone Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--905

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