First Year Civil and Environmental Engineering Design Experience

Article excerpt


The University of Dayton requires all first year engineering students to enroll in a design course that is composed of several standalone modules. Included in the first generation of this class was a module on civil and environmental engineering, the topic of this manuscript. The goals of this module were to define civil and environmental engineering, illustrate the interrelationship of all engineering disciplines, show the integration of technical and nontechnical issues, and introduce the design process. To achieve these goals, case studies and panel discussions were presented and a laboratory exercise conducted. The laboratory exercise consisted oftwo components. In the environmental engineering component, students designed a filtration/contact unit to treat polluted water. The civil engineering component required building a structure to hold the filtration unit. These exercises integrated technical and non-technical issues. The technical components were the open-ended design problem associated with cleaning polluted water and the construction of the process support structure and the non-technical issues included related social considerations, teamwork, technical writing, ethics, and finance. Students' assessments ofthe module have revealed that the objectives of the module were largely achieved.


In 1994, the Engineering Deans Council revealed, in a joint report entitled Engineering Education for a Changing World, "while engineering education in the United States has served the nation well, there is broad recognition that it must change to meet new challenges.1 The Council observed that engineering programs need to integrate other facets of education such as communication, teaming, and leadership into curriculums and to provide perspectives on the economic, social, and environmental impacts of designs. There was also an emphasis on providing students with multi-disciplinary perspectives. References 2 and 3 present a very detailed history and perspective on the importance of considering the social aspects and the long-term impact on the environment of engineering designs. Joseph Bordogna, former head of the National Science Foundation's (NSF) engineering directorate, asserts that rather than turning out more introverted engineering analysts, society needs more graduates "who work well together on technical problems with open-ended solutions subject to fiscal and environmental constraints."4

In response, several universities have first year engineering design experiences. Reference 5 discusses an extensive investigation on these programs and found that 43 universities have hands-on first year, multi-disciplinary programs. They also classified the experiences into 8 categories and developed a matrix containing important criteria on one side and the 8 categories on the other so that the best approach for their institution could be determined. In reference 6, the many perceived advantages of the first year experience were discussed but it was emphasized that there was little data available to substantiate them. They used the Perry model to measure the improvement of intellectual development for students who completed a first year design experience. There are also many case studies describing new first year design classes including the recent one described in reference 7. In this class, lectures, guest speakers, and a lab, that uses a team approach for a reverse engineering project, are described.

The School of Engineering at the University of Dayton also initiated a first year design course in August of 1997 that is part of the required curriculum for all engineering students. The primary goals of the class are to provide a design experience early in the student's education and to introduce the core engineering fields. This class, at its inception, consisted of several modules representing the major engineering disciplines. Each individual engineering module had its own specific goals and developed techniques to achieve these goals, as long as they were consistent with the overall objectives of the course. …