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Design Course Offers Students A Glimpse Of Their Futures

January 31, 2005

It’s possible to put together a jigsaw puzzle without knowing what it will look like, but it’s easier if you can see the whole picture first. That’s sort of the idea behind a freshman design course, Introduction to Engineering, offered by the College of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Now in its 11th year, a primary goal of the course is to substantially reduce the number of students who switch to another major, says Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Patrick V. Farrell.

“Some students were making these choices based only on the fact that they hate calculus,” he says. “We want to give them a real taste of engineering first. We want them to realize what skills are valuable to being an engineer.”

Introduction to Engineering provides freshmen with an overview of engineering based on a “hands-on” experience with a client-centered engineering design project. The course includes a team-based design project, a survey of engineering disciplines and an introduction to computer tools and lab techniques.

Students are designing and building solutions to a range of problems. Some of the projects include building an aqueduct for a water garden, improving disability access to State Street businesses, creating an animal feed steam chamber sampler,
developing a zip code recording system and building an electronic water softener.

“This is where we generate interest and enthusiasm in engineering as a career,” says Marc Anderson, professor of civil and environmental engineering. “This is an excellent way to teach the excitement and fun of engineering in a project and team-oriented fashion. It introduces a variety of aspects of all forms of engineering to the students.”

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