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Using A First Year Learning Community To Help Meet Departmental Program Objectives In Agricultural & Biosystems Engineering

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



Page Count


Page Numbers

6.1099.1 - 6.1099.14



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Paper Authors

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Patricia Harms

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Steven Mickelson

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Thomas Brumm

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

Session 2608

Using a First-Year Learning Community to Help Meet Departmental Program Objectives in Agricultural & Biosystems Engineering

Patricia C. Harms, Steven K. Mickelson, Thomas J. Brumm Iowa State University


A current trend on many college campuses is the implementation of student learning communities. At Iowa State University, we have found that our first-year learning community has provided an opportunity for agricultural engineering students to become involved in the Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering (ABE) department from the moment they arrive on campus. Not only has the learning community helped us increase our retention from 47.6 percent for the 1997/1998 academic year to 86.2% for the 1999/2000 academic year, it has helped us to address many of our program objectives including: an ability to function on multi-disciplinary teams, an ability to communicate effectively, and knowledge of important contemporary issues. Our formal assessment of the initiative reveals that students are overwhelmingly satisfied with the program.


The term “learning communities” has become increasingly prominent in the literature since the late 1980s1. According to Huba2, “A learning community can be defined as a small group of students, mostly freshmen, who work closely together as a community of learners within the larger community of the university. By sharing classes and/or living space, students form close friendships as part of an innovative program in cooperative learning” (p. 1). Initially created in an effort to increase student retention and improve student learning, learning communities continue to gain popularity as college administrations and faculty become aware of the benefits to students and to universities. Student involvement in learning communities at Iowa State University (ISU) has steadily increased since they “began…as a grass roots effort in 1994, with the first learning community implemented in the fall of 1995. Within the past three years, student participation in learning communities has grown from 1,114 [students] in 1998 to 1,779 in 1999 to 1,838 in 2000” (Huba, p. 1).

At large research based universities, like ISU, it is often difficult for undergraduate students to become engaged in the university, an issue highlighted by the Boyer Commission’s 1998 report3. Learning communities are one innovation designed to address this difficulty. Furthermore, for engineering programs in particular, engaging (and retaining) new students is extremely important as the demand for engineering graduates is increasing, while the number of students obtaining engineering degrees is about constant4. No longer can engineering departments ignore the need for retention programs for increasing the number of their graduates. In light of this fact, engineering college administrations are increasingly evaluating departments on outcome-based objectives related to retention and graduation rates. These outcomes are typically highly

“Proceedings of the 2001 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2001, American Society for Engineering Education”

Harms, P., & Mickelson, S., & Brumm, T. (2001, June), Using A First Year Learning Community To Help Meet Departmental Program Objectives In Agricultural & Biosystems Engineering Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico. 10.18260/1-2--9959

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