In Fall 2016, a new First Year Experience (FYE) was implemented for all incoming engineering students at the University of Kentucky, resulting in a restructuring of our curriculum during the sophomore through senior years and eliminating two departmental freshman courses previously used to introduce the students to our discipline, its specialization pathways and problems typically encountered by biological and agricultural engineers. While the FYE should lead to students making more informed decisions about their choice of major resulting in higher retention rates within each major, it also means the departments have one less year of contact with students.
To combat lost contact time, a new introductory course was developed for first semester sophomores. The introductory course is divided into modules, each detailing a design problem from the different specializations within BAE. Each module explains a number of basic concepts related to the design problem. Students are asked to develop solutions to real-world design problems to explore the specialization areas within the discipline, practice their problem-solving skills on real, sometimes "messy" problems, grow their engineering intuition and learn to distinguish between realistic and improbable solutions. Students will compile a learning portfolio throughout the semester documenting their design solutions for each module, as well as self-reflections on their initial choice of specialization and the impact modules had on their choice of specialization (either confirming their initial choice or providing evidence why an alternative may be a better fit).
The intended advantages of this proposed arrangement is four-fold. (1) Students will be prepared to make a more informed decision regarding their selected area of specialization, leading to a more straightforward path to graduation. (2) Content will preview topics and information that students will see again in upper-level engineering courses, providing a scaffold framework to aid in their transition to becoming more autonomous and engaged learners. (3) Students will practice working with open-ended problems in a low-stakes environment, building their confidence for making sound engineering decisions. (4) Students will begin developing a portfolio of design experiences in a variety of areas to draw upon as they progress through the curriculum, leading to a broader, systems-approach to solving engineering problems.
Specialization selection and graduation data, surveys, and self-reflections will be used as assessment tools to determine whether this approach contributed to students' abilities to make informed decisions about specialization choice, to build upon their previous experiences to grow their engineering intuition and to discern between realistic and improbable engineering solutions. Average time to graduation of BAE students, as well as the percent change in initial and final choice of specialization for students from before and after this course was implemented, will be compared to determine the impact this course has in student decision making.
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