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Transitioning Students into BAE from a Common First-Year Engineering Curriculum - A Work in Progress

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Outreach, recruiting, and retention

Tagged Division

Biological & Agricultural

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Paper Authors


Alicia A. Modenbach P.E. University of Kentucky

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Alicia A. Modenbach is a lecturer in the Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering Department at the University of Kentucky, 128 C.E. Barnhart Building, Lexington, KY 40546.

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Sue E. Nokes University of Kentucky

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Dr. Nokes obtained her Ph.D. in Biological and Agricultural Engineering in1990 from North Carolina State University. She has served on the faculty at the University of Kentucky since 1995 in a teaching and research position. Nokes’s research involves microbial bioprocessing and modeling of the microbial conversion of biomass into chemicals and fuels. She has worked mainly with anaerobic thermophiles for the production of industrial chemicals and fuels in a solid substrate environment. She is currently the department chair of the Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY and has been since 2011. Her awards include the Wethington Award for Superior Performance with Extramural Funding (2006-2016), Provost’s Teaching Award (2011), USDA-NASULGC Excellence in Teaching Award, Southern Region (2003). Superior ASAE Paper Award (2002), ASABE National A.W. Farrall Young Educator Award (2000), Chancellor’s Award for Outstanding Teaching, Non-Tenured Faculty (2000), Henry Lutes College of Engineering Excellence in Teaching Award (1999), and several other teaching awards. Dr. Nokes has published over 60 peer reviewed articles and four book chapters and has received over $10M in grant money from sources including the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and industrial support. Nokes holds one patent.

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In Fall 2016, a new First Year Experience (FYE) was implemented for all incoming engineering students at the University of Kentucky, resulting in a restructuring of our curriculum during the sophomore through senior years and eliminating two departmental freshman courses previously used to introduce the students to our discipline, its specialization pathways and problems typically encountered by biological and agricultural engineers. While the FYE should lead to students making more informed decisions about their choice of major resulting in higher retention rates within each major, it also means the departments have one less year of contact with students. To combat lost contact time, a new introductory course was developed for first semester sophomores. The introductory course is divided into modules, each detailing a design problem from the different specializations within BAE. Each module explains a number of basic concepts related to the design problem. Students are asked to develop solutions to real-world design problems to explore the specialization areas within the discipline, practice their problem-solving skills on real, sometimes "messy" problems, grow their engineering intuition and learn to distinguish between realistic and improbable solutions. Students will compile a learning portfolio throughout the semester documenting their design solutions for each module, as well as self-reflections on their initial choice of specialization and the impact modules had on their choice of specialization (either confirming their initial choice or providing evidence why an alternative may be a better fit). The intended advantages of this proposed arrangement is four-fold. (1) Students will be prepared to make a more informed decision regarding their selected area of specialization, leading to a more straightforward path to graduation. (2) Content will preview topics and information that students will see again in upper-level engineering courses, providing a scaffold framework to aid in their transition to becoming more autonomous and engaged learners. (3) Students will practice working with open-ended problems in a low-stakes environment, building their confidence for making sound engineering decisions. (4) Students will begin developing a portfolio of design experiences in a variety of areas to draw upon as they progress through the curriculum, leading to a broader, systems-approach to solving engineering problems. Specialization selection and graduation data, surveys, and self-reflections will be used as assessment tools to determine whether this approach contributed to students' abilities to make informed decisions about specialization choice, to build upon their previous experiences to grow their engineering intuition and to discern between realistic and improbable engineering solutions. Average time to graduation of BAE students, as well as the percent change in initial and final choice of specialization for students from before and after this course was implemented, will be compared to determine the impact this course has in student decision making.

Modenbach, A. A., & Nokes, S. E. (2017, June), Transitioning Students into BAE from a Common First-Year Engineering Curriculum - A Work in Progress Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--29044

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