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What’s in a Name? General, Interdisciplinary, and Integrated Engineering Programs

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2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Baltimore , Maryland

Publication Date

June 25, 2023

Start Date

June 25, 2023

End Date

June 28, 2023

Conference Session

Multidisciplinary Engineering Division (MULTI) Technical Session 3

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering Division (MULTI)

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Paper Authors


Angela R. Bielefeldt University of Colorado, Boulder

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Angela Bielefeldt is a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering (CEAE) and Director of the Integrated Design Engineering program (formerly Engineering Plus). She has served as the Associate Chair for Undergraduate Education in the CEAE Department, as well as the ABET assessment coordinator. Professor Bielefeldt was also the faculty director of the Sustainable By Design Residential Academic Program, a living-learning community where students learned about and practice sustainability. Bielefeldt is also a licensed P.E. Professor Bielefeldt's research interests in engineering education include service-learning, sustainable engineering, social responsibility, ethics, and diversity.

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This study explored differences and similarities among undergraduate engineering programs named general, engineering, interdisciplinary, and integrated. Benchmarking these non-specialty programs was conducted using information from course catalogs and websites. Many of these ABET EAC-accredited programs only a awarded a very small number of Bachelor’s degrees in 2022 or 2021. The majority of the non-specialty programs required students to select a concentration, generally in a traditional engineering discipline (e.g., mechanical) but in some programs these were unique interdisciplinary areas (e.g., renewable energy). Based on the 2022 catalogs, the total number of credits did not differ statistically among the non-specialty ABET EAC accredited programs with different names. On average across 35 institutions, the non-specialty degrees required 1.4 fewer credits than disciplinary engineering degrees at those same institutions. Among a smaller number of ABET EAC accredited non-specialty degrees that were benchmarked in more detail, 19 ‘engineering’ and ‘general engineering’ degrees required a lower percentage of technical coursework and offered a lower percentage of curricular choice compared to 7 degrees that included the word interdisciplinary, integrated, or multidisciplinary in their name. A few programs require students to take the NCEES Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam prior to graduation. The AI-based program ChatGPT definitions of general, interdisciplinary, and integrated all emphasized breadth, multiple disciplines, and design, while also including the distinguishing factors of practical (for general) versus complex and innovative/ novel (interdisciplinary and integrated), and the importance of social impacts (integrated). Various types of content analyses were conducted based on how these programs are described on their websites; differences among the program name groups were not identified but the corpora were too small for robust analysis. Overall the paper provides enhanced understanding of the goals and curricula of these programs. This may be helpful as programs consider suitable names for non-specialty engineering degrees.

Bielefeldt, A. R. (2023, June), What’s in a Name? General, Interdisciplinary, and Integrated Engineering Programs Paper presented at 2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Baltimore , Maryland. 10.18260/1-2--44022

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