Teaching Engineering To The Disinterested: A Case Study In Teaching Engineering Principles To Non Engineering Majors

As our infrastructure ages, Civil Engineers, balanced by a firm core of social, economic and political theory, are a strategic asset for the future. Yet, the number of students that elect to undertake engineering majors for their undergraduate degree appears stagnated and even trending downwards in recent years. The Executive Director of the National Society of Professional Engineers, Patrick Natale, believes this trend is caused by selling the wrong message; that is, engineering is only the application of math and science. Rather, the message that should be communicated is that engineering is about innovative problem solving and creating what was not there before; about defining a problem and finding a new path to forge ahead; and building the future now. A medium for communicating this message is a broad-based introduction-to-engineering course early in the undergraduate curriculum. Many universities currently offer or are developing such courses. A consideration when developing these courses is the challenge of teaching engineering to those who are not fully committed to an engineering major. As a critical piece of the liberal education at the United States Military Academy, a sequence of engineering courses is required for all majors, including non-engineering majors. Many of the means and methods used in these courses are applicable to the introduction-to engineering courses at other universities. This paper focuses on a semester-long Engineering Design Project (EDP) - used in the third sequence course - for the design and construction planning of a base-camp to house, support and sustain a given population. The EDP is developed within a broad math, science, social, economic, and political context. Base-camp objectives are developed based on population requirements, constraints governing the solution and necessary base-camp functions. Specific techniques used include trade-off decision analysis, using Google © SketchUp to communicate the design, and a “K’nex-ercise” to illustrate the construction process. This paper assesses the effectiveness of the EDP to deliver the contemporary engineering message - innovative problem solving for building the future - and outlines the applicability of the EDP in other universities.
Engineering Design Project (EDP), United States Military Academy, “K’nex-ercise”
Himes, Bruhl, and Hanus, “Teaching Engineering To The Disinterested.” 2008.