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Freshman design course gives students a glimpse of their futures

Trevor Dodson and Grant Duchac

First-year engineering students Grant Duchac (right) and Trevor Dodson weld together the undercarriage of a motorized agricultural supply cart, which will be used by the agricultural research department to haul plants and tools behind a recumbent bicycle. The students designed and are building the vehicle as part of an engineering service-learning class, in which students get experience building projects for real-world clients. (Photo: Michael Forster Rothbart) (large image)

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 the College of Engineering's freshman design course, Introduction to Engineering.

Now in its 11th year, a primary goal of the course is to 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."

Justin Shepard is a fifth-year computer engineering major who took the course as a freshman and now assists in teaching the class. "I really enjoyed the experience as a freshman," he says. "I think that the best part of coming back and teaching this course is that you finally have the engineering tools at your disposal to help these young kids get their project completed."

Devon Dyreson and Ryan Wilson

Upperclassman student assistant Ryan Wilson (right) helps Devon Dyreson (left) check a calculation. At the board, Brian Klesius and Jason Brant debate the best way to attach containers inside a rotator. A team of students redesigned and are building a replacement for an existing batch rotator that did not work properly. (Photo: Michael Forster Rothbart) (large image)

Sarah Kirchoff, Andrew Bernstein, Joe Cabelka, Eric Albrecht and
                                    Fred Stratchear

Students apply epoxy to carbon fibers laid over fiberglass molds as they construct sections of a retractable handicapped access ramp. The students designed and built the prototype, which will enable wheelchair-bound patrons to access stores with a front step. Pictured are (clockwise from bottom left) Sarah Kirchoff, Andrew Bernstein, Joe Cabelka, Eric Albrecht and Fred Stratchear. (Photo: Michael Forster Rothbart) (large image)

Anna Moeller and Jim Tinjum

Engineering student Anna Moeller talks with lecturer Jim Tinjum about the design of a batch rotator that will mix chemicals in the Environmental Sciences Laboratory. (Photo: Michael Forster Rothbart) (large image)

Edward Durkee

Edward Durkee adjusts a modified hockey stick that will mount on a wheelchair, enabling kids in a local Madison wheelchair hockey league to hold and pivot their hockey sticks. (Photo: Michael Forster Rothbart) (large image)