First Year Engineering

Improved Student Assessment Mechanisms and an Evaluation of Faculty Participation in a New First Year Engineering Sequence

Principal Investigators:

  • Stephen Batill, Associate Dean for Educational Programs, College of Engineering
  • Jay Brockman, Computer Science and Engineering
  • Patrick Dunn, Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering
  • Patrick Fay, Electrical Engineering
  • Thomas Fuja, Electrical Engineering
  • David Leighton, Chemical Engineering
  • Steven Silliman, Civil Engineering and Geological Sciences
  • John Uhran, Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs

Contact: Leo McWilliams,

The College of Engineering has recently embarked on a new First Year curriculum, central to which is a two-course Introduction to Engineering sequence.  Through the Carnegie Scholarship of Teaching Program, the principal investigators will focus on developing student performance assessment mechanisms for these project-based, team-oriented courses.  Introduction to Engineering has numerous sections with large student enrollments.  Because the teaching of these courses departs from traditional practice, the College must develop alternative means to assess student learning in an efficient and effective manner.  This two-year study, which began in July 2000, will also evaluate requisite time commitments of the participating faculty since the new First Year curriculum represents a major investment of faculty resources by the College.  Investigators will collect and analyze data from quizzes and exams; scoring summary information and reports written by students; student surveys and interviews; and the faculty member's log of their time.

Project Outcomes

The following pedagogical changes have been made based on student feedback during this SoTL project.

Computer Programming

Entry Surveys, administered during the first few weeks of class indicated that more than half of the students had no experience with computer programming. This indicator proved to be consistent with student frustration and dissatisfaction with the programming requirements of the first project. Beginning with Academic Year 2003/2004 we delayed computer programming until later in the Academic Year. The first project was changed to focus on engineering design and the use of existing computer programs to aid in decision making.

Learning Center Activities

Exit Surveys, administered near the end of each Academic Year indicated that the students overwhelmingly preferred Learning Center activities that allowed the development of “hands on” experience.  Based on these results, the Learning Center Activities are reviewed and developed with one of the goals to provide significant  “hands-on” or independent/group content. Learning Center Activities are sequenced to minimize the number of consecutive Learning Centers with minimal “hands-on” experience.

Project 3 Control of a Chemical Process

The students in the Exit Surveys ranked this project a distant fourth of the EG111/112 projects. As a result, the Learning Objectives were recast to focus on feedback control of a system. In focusing on the control of the system, the students were able to focus on the engineering issues related to feedback control.

Paper Presentation:

Catherine Pieronek, Leo H. McWilliams and Stephen E. Silliman (2003). Initial Observations on Student Retention and Course Satisfaction Based on First-Year Engineering Student Surveys and Interviews, ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Nashville Tennessee, June 22-25, 2003;