As a first-year engineering instructor on the first day of class, someone invariably asks what discipline of engineering they should go into. Not knowing the particular background of these individuals, it is difficult to give them meaningful advice on the spot. First-year students (and their parents) have an expectation that the first-year course will “help” them decide what discipline they should major in. While introducing students to the different variations of engineering, many first-year programs have evolved towards the inclusion of curricular content such as design, entrepreneurship, writing, and/or programming. This leaves little class time to devote to presentations from each branch of engineering.
This GIFTS will cover various engineering innovations and connections to major choice and topical areas. At the start of each class, an engineering innovation is highlighted that relates to one the major concepts of that class period, as well as to the majors that are involved in its development and application. This provides opportunity for students to connect to things that interest them, and potentially help to connect to their own intended major. Innovations can be sourced from current headlines or even from features in the ASEE Prism magazine. Instruction focuses upon the disciplinary connections of that innovation and any additional applications to the course subject.
While the innovations are meant to expose students to the different disciplines of engineering, there are also some additional benefits. The first being simple introduction to the myriad of applications of engineering beyond basic concepts that they have previously experienced within formal or informal environments (e.g. robotics, bridge building, physics). Disciplinary and interdisciplinary connections are also emphasized to expose students to different majors and how different areas may work on the same project. This helps to allay fears of picking the “wrong” major, and instead focuses them upon what skills they need to develop to do the work they are interested in. The innovations also have the potential to connect to current events and increase student interest. For example, recent natural disasters emphasize the need for innovations within flood control, emergency distribution, and safety. Lastly, exposure to cutting edge research also has the potential to increase interest in research and development and/or grad school.
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