Magazine article ASEE Prism

The Terrible Two's

Magazine article ASEE Prism

The Terrible Two's

Article excerpt

WE APPEAR TO BE in another period of soul-searching and agonizing about how to deal with engineering enrollments. The percentage of college graduates majoring in engineering has declined steadily over the years. The realization that many engineering tasks are being farmed out to China and India, both of which have dramatically larger numbers of engineering graduates, has served to heighten concern about retention. Dropping out occurs most often in the first two years, and several ideas have been proposed on how to keep students in engineering. Purdue professors Phillip Wankat and Frank Oreovicz have suggested that introductory physics and mathematics courses be redesigned from "gatekeeper" courses into motivating courses. But it is not clear that the idea addresses one of the major problems-that during the first two years students do not come in contact with enough engineering content or engineering faculty.

The first two years are devoted largely to the basic sciences, which in turn serve as the foundation for the last two years of applying scientific principles to technological problems. This structure was developed in part as a response to industry because graduating engineers were perceived to be unable to practice in industry as a result of the wholesale swap of an emphasis on the practical for the post-Sputnik focus on the theoretical. The infusion of first-year design courses in the late 1980s and early 1990s was motivated by an awareness of the curriculum disconnect between first-year students and engineering faculty members. First-year project and design courses emerged so that students could be exposed to what engineers actually do, while learning basic elements of the design process by doing real projects.

Design projects have been used to motivate and integrate learning. Cornerstone project-based courses also help with students' motivation and retention by introducing engineering content and experience early on and by putting first-year students into direct contact with faculty. …

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