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University of Wisconsin Madison College of Engineering
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Freshman advising team helps students uncover interests

Friendly faces in the Pre-Engineering Office

Each year the college's pre-engineering staff spends literally thousands of hours in direct contact with first-year engineering students guiding them on their way to engineering majors. (28K JPG)

If there is one place to hear the heartbeat of the freshman engineering experience, it is likely in room 2640 of Engineering Hall. The Engineering General Resources Office, headed by Assistant Dean Donald C. Woolston, coordinates the recruitment, orientation and advising of students entering the College of Engineering from high school. Once recruited, the pre-engineering staff does everything it can to ensure academic success and progress for pre-engineering students as they enter one of the engineering departments.

In the course of a year, Woolston, Associate Faculty Associate Bonnie H. Schmidt, Student Services Coordinator Eman Zaki and Program Assistant Nancy Hansen spend literally thousands of hours in direct contact with first-year engineering students. Starting with recruiting activities during high school students' senior year, through registration and orientation activities in the summer and throughout the first two semesters of courses, the staff in pre-engineering encourages and guides new students on their way to engineering majors. (The college's Diversity Affairs Office also advises freshmen.)

Maintaining a steady flow of top-notch academic talent into the college is an important mission of the Engineering General Resources Office.

The office relies on four main recruiting programs:


  • The Campus Visit program during which visiting students and their parents meet pre-engineering staff and engineering undergraduates. The undergraduate shows families around the engineering campus to complement tours of the general campus given by the university's admissions office.


  • Engineering Saturdays for Tomorrow's Engineers at Madison (ESTEAM) is an annual, day-long program that invites top-performing Wisconsin high school juniors and seniors and their parents to campus.


  • The Freshman Merit Award Scholarship Program is funded through alumni donations. The pre-engineering office processes hundreds of freshman merit scholarship applications and in 1996, awarded $90,000 to incoming students.


  • New in 1996 was the Student-to-Student Calling Program.

"We hired well-informed, friendly engineering undergraduates to call prospective students throughout the semester to promote our programs and scholarships," said Woolston. "We had a great response and so accelerated the program in spring of 1997 with the goal of personally contacting every student admitted to the college for the following fall."

Traffic in the office is heavy. While staff can expect an increase in questions regarding registration or policy as academic-year deadlines come and go, they never really know what kind of question or contact will come through the door on a given day. In fact, any question or concern shown in the pie chart above may come up at any time.

Student problems pie chart

Freshman Engineering Students: Questions and Problems (30K JPG)


Academic advising is the biggest reason students contact the Engineering General Resources Office. The engineering curriculum is difficult, and although half of all pre-engineering students are from the top half of their high school class, the challenging course work here at the university catches many by surprise.

"Lots of things go through the mind of a freshman," said Woolston. "They want to feel as though they fit in and that the choices they are making are going to work. Many of them consider themselves good at math and science and they are, but they find out that they still have to study. I think some resentment can develop there."

Advisors sometimes have to remind students not to lose heart. Pre-engineering staff work through the Office of Academic Affairs and several student organizations to offer tutoring to everyone that asks for it. They also let students know that other skills and strengths are important to being successful engineers.

"Not just one kind of person succeeds as an engineer," said Associate Faculty Associate Bonnie H. Schmidt. Schmidt said students often don't have a very good idea of how important communications skills and other abilities are to being an engineer. To that end, Pre-engineering and the college as a whole have started classes like EPD 101, Contemporary Issues in Engineering. Students take personality type indicator tests, complete exercises in teamwork and learn from practicing engineers about the challenges of the various engineering disciplines.

The idea behind the course is to give students an early taste of the profession they are working toward and a sense for how all the diverse knowledge they are acquiring will come together to make them successful engineers. It's a lot to communicate to several hundred pre-engineering students but the success of many individual students and the future of the college depends on it.

"We can't necessarily predict the students who will succeed and those who will have more of a struggle," said Woolston. "Sometimes they surprise us. The key is to let them know we are here to help. If they need direction, they can find it here. And if they want to succeed, we can give them encouragement and support as well."