There are a number of programs designed to increase the number and diversity of the engineering workforce. The author applauds these efforts. The purpose of this paper is to point out some disturbing trends and to propose a radical approach to reversing them.
Some ideas that seem to be commonly accepted are: (1) the first mathematics course in a typical Engineering program is Calculus. (2) The percentage of students entering the university prepared to take Calculus is declining. (3) Many students from lower socioeconomic groups rely on financial aid. (4) Many financial aid programs require full time enrollment in courses leading to the degree.
So here is the problem, an increasing number of students are not able to make progress in engineering classes directly out of high school because they are not ready for Calculus. Many of the students from targeted groups who are not ready for Calculus are required to take many of the core (English, History etc.) to satisfy full-time status for financial aid. When these students are ready for engineering classes, they often have few non-engineering classes left. Therefore, as they progress into higher-level engineering material, they must take a heavy load of highly technical classes. This often results in lower GPA and possibly failure.
Fortunately, although most engineering courses require Calculus at some point in the class, much of the content in these classes does not require Calculus. For example, although a thorough understanding of Bernoulli’s equation may require calculus, the application of the equation itself requires little more than algebra. If an engineering curriculum can be repackaged based on the required mathematical sophistication, it should be possible to create an engineering degree program that could be entered by virtually anyone leaving high school. As long as the student progresses through mathematics, they should be able to progress through engineering classes too. This will allow them to achieve full time status without “using up” all their core classes. Thus allowing them to save the core class to use when they need to dilute the number of engineering classes in a semester.
There are many advantages of an engineering curriculum organized by mathematical sophistication. First, one might expect more students entering engineering because they can make progress immediately. One would expect greater retention for one reason because the student “sees” the application of engineering early in the curriculum. One might also expect the students to be more intellectually diverse. This means not all engineering students are the math wizards from high school.
This paper proposes a method for designing an engineering curriculum organized by mathematical sophistication and describes how it could be presented to students in an understandable way.
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