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Teaching Non Engineers To Engineer

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Student Engagement in ECE

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.1181.1 - 15.1181.10



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Paper Authors

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Jeffrey Butler U.S. Air Force Academy

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Darren Wilson U.S. Air Force Academy

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

Teaching Non-Engineers to Engineer Abstract

There are challenges inherent in any program that strives to introduce engineering principles to non-engineering majors. These challenges are greatly exacerbated, however, when the goal is not merely to introduce, but to get the non-engineers to actively apply engineering principles to achieve specific design goals and to make solid, informed decisions based on their designs. At the United States Air Force Academy, every cadet is required to take several core engineering courses, regardless of the major, with the stated goal of being able to apply the engineering principles that are learned. This paper will explore the pedagogy developed by the Air Force Academy’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering designed specifically to overcome the inherent challenges of teaching non-engineers to engineer. Moreover, the paper will discuss an effective approach to incorporating meaningful learning opportunities such as projects, labs, and hands-on experiments in the context of electrical engineering and “systems level” thinking. Finally, we will also discuss challenges and solutions in the assessment of engineering ability and in designing a course in which specific goals, learning opportunities, and assessment are well aligned.


There is value added in beginning this paper with a working definition of the term “engineering”. Simply put, before we can figure out how to teach non-engineers how to do it, we need to know what it is. For this paper, we will define engineering as the application of technical principles for the purpose of deciding how to solve a particular problem.

This definition has three main components:

- Engineering deals with technical issues

- Engineering deals with making decisions

- Engineering deals with solving problems

For several years, the core Electrical Engineering course taught at the United States Air Force Academy did not attempt to teach engineering as defined above. Instead, it offered a wide assortment of technical topics, with no strong, unifying themes. These topics included:

- Resistive circuits

- Transformers

- AC to DC conversion

- Transducers

Butler, J., & Wilson, D. (2010, June), Teaching Non Engineers To Engineer Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16102

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