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The Show Must Go On Reflections On The Pursuit Of Engineering Through Inter Disciplinary Design Challenges

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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

FPD2 -- Highlighting First-Year Programs

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.1330.1 - 11.1330.9



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Paper Authors


Kristin Wilhelm University of Virginia

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Kristin Wilhelm is a Second Year Civil Engineering student at the University of Virginia. An alumnus of the first Inside the Box class, she is thrilled to have had the chance to work with Dean Marshall and Benjamin Kidd and be part of the magic once again.

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Benjamin Kidd University of Virginia

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Benjamin holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering, also from the University of Virginia. His current research involves a project called "ecoMOD", a collaborative effort between the University's Engineering and Architecture schools to design and build energy efficient affordable housing. Benjamin is also the recipient of the 2004-2005 Outstanding GTA Award for the Electrical Engineering Department, and a recipient of the All-University Teaching Assistant Award. His interests include Amateur Radio (Call sign KG4EIF), stage lighting, pyrotechnics, Boy Scouts, electricity education, model railroading, and Jazz Band.

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P. Paxton Marshall University of Virginia

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P. Paxton Marshall is Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia. Marshall has been active in developing multidisciplinary design courses to help students experience the joy of engineering and develop their creative capacities. Currently Marshall is working with the UVA School of Architecture on the design and construction of a modular house for Habitat for Humanity, to be shipped to a low income family in Mississippi that lost its home to hurricane Katrina. The house will incorporate photovoltaic power system designed and installed by UVA engineering students. He is the former Chair of the Energy Conversion and Conservation Division and the Engineering and Public Policy Division of the American Society for Engineering Education.

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

THE SHOW MUST GO ON Reflections On The Pursuit Of Engineering Through Inter- Disciplinary Design Challenges


Several recent studies have expressed concern about the small numbers of Americans receiving degrees in engineering and related fields relative to other countries, and have called for sharp increases in engineering enrollments and degrees. Yet, the number of high school graduates choosing engineering as a major has increased only slowly and the attrition rate of students in engineering programs remains alarmingly high. The success in attracting increasing numbers of women, blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans into engineering has also been discouraging.1,2,3

One of the most significant barriers to increasing engineering enrollments and persistence has been the prevailing stereotypes of engineers and the engineering education. Too often, engineers are perceived as nerds, lacking social skills, but possessing arcane technical knowledge that is beyond the grasp of “normal” people.2, p.37 An engineering education is perceived by many as an unremitting grind that only math geniuses and those willing to forego a social life should even consider. These stereotypes are reinforced by engineering curricula that utilize mathematics as an entry hurdle to weed out those “unfit” to enter the profession. Seldom does one hear the words “fun”, “creativity”, or “helping profession” applied to engineering. Engineering is perceived as the preserve of the left-brain; right-brainers need not apply.

Yet, the practice of engineering supplies enormous scope for creativity, is very often fun, and frequently requires far fewer advanced mathematics skills than most people, including engineering educators, seem to realize.

This paper will make the case for multidisciplinary team design projects as a means of encouraging students in the pursuit of engineering by demonstrating that engineering can be fun, and that creativity, initiative, resourcefulness, and people skills are as important to the success of an engineering project as are narrowly defined quantitative analytical skills. Moreover it will illustrate the value of interacting with students in other creative professions in helping engineering students to value and develop their own creativity.

A 2005 study by the National Academy of Engineering “Educating the Engineer of 2020: Adapting Engineering Education to the New Century” (2005) emphasizes that for engineering schools to embrace the challenge of educating engineers needed in the twenty-first century, they must adapt their curricula and methods to emphasize

• Engagement of the engineer and professionals from different disciplines in team-based problem-solving processes; • The tools used by the engineer and other technical professionals;

Wilhelm, K., & Kidd, B., & Marshall, P. P. (2006, June), The Show Must Go On Reflections On The Pursuit Of Engineering Through Inter Disciplinary Design Challenges Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--797

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