Wright State University: National Model Prepares Engineering Students for Successful Graduation and Beyond
Wright State University is changing the graduation rates for engineering students. Universities across the country are looking for ways to dramatically move the needle on graduation rates of four-year engineering degrees. To address this issue, the Wright State Model for Engineering Mathematics Education was developed at Wright State University and is proven to increase student success throughout required engineering courses, increase the number of students who graduate on time and help students achieve better grades in all courses, not just within the engineering major.
Developed in 2001 by two Wright State University engineering professors, Dr. Nathan Klingbeil and Dr. Kuldip Rattan, the cornerstone course EGR 1010 titled “Introductory Mathematics for Engineering Applications” has served as the new starting point for incoming engineering freshmen. Coupled with an adjustment to the prerequisites for core engineering courses and a shift in the required math sequence, Wright State has seen four-year graduation rates increase from 26 percent to 56 percent.
Traditional curriculum has students taking calculus I-III, differential equations, and matrix algebra all before any exposure to core engineering classes like statics, dynamics, strength of materials, and circuits. This meant that if you were not a top student (think ACT >28), the likelihood of lasting through the difficult mathematics sequence in order to assess if engineering was even the correct career choice became extremely small; quantitatively, graduation rates of 26 percent. Upon poor performance in the mathematics department, students would typically drop out of engineering school, believing they did not have what it takes to be an engineer, because of the difficult math sequence. To specifically correct this fallacy and instill a sense of confidence and preparation in freshman engineering majors, EGR 1010 was developed by Wright State University.
What students needed was a class that depicted how engineers actually use the seemingly complex skills obtained in the mathematics department. This would provide much-needed context for the question every engineering student has while taking a math course, “Why do I need this?” Not only that, but because the course content was derived from upper level classes, it would give students a taste of what engineering is all about, thus giving them a valuable data point for making an informed career choice; lastly, and maybe the most important course impact, an increase in motivation to study the field of engineering. Students must still complete the traditional math sequence that every engineer in the country completes, but attacking it AFTER seeing how it’s used and in parallel with some core engineering courses has led to such high retention in the engineering department at WSU.
Not only has this increased the number of successful engineering students, but also the quality of those students. Because of the intense workload required right off the bat as incoming freshmen, they are better prepared after taking EGR 1010 to handle anything the mathematics or engineering department can throw at them.
The course is constructed of three required components. The first is lecture, consisting of traditional material presentation in notes/board format taught by WSU faculty. More recently, WSU has invested university monies to expand on this topic by implementing a more active learning environment for the presentation of EGR 1010 lectures in scale-up format.
The second and third components are recitations and laboratories taught by upper-class engineering students under the advisement of the course faculty. Typically consisting of 20 to 30 students, these smaller sections offer an opportunity for working extra problems, an introduction to the computer programming language Matlab and gaining hands-on experience performing experiments.
In addition, laboratories include an abstract writing component that satisfies ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) requirements for a writing intensive course. Students are assigned weekly engineering homework, programming homework, lab reports and abstracts all in addition to three exams throughout the semester. The workload pointedly challenges students in addition to the mathematics topics covered. While not exhaustive, these include linear algebra, trigonometry, harmonic signals, basic derivation, integration and even introductory differential equations.
What results are students who are well equipped and well versed in what the next four years have in store for them. And should some realize that engineering is not the correct path, at least that decision was made based on engineering curriculum.
As indicated, the success of the Wright State University Model for Engineering Mathematics has gained traction across the country. Klingbeil, who is now the dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science at WSU, frequently visits engineering colleges across the United States interested in employing the Wright State Model. These include some high visibility engineering programs at The Ohio State University, which is currently running a 75-seat section of the class, and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, which is running a pilot implementation. In addition, offerings at Temple University, Howard University, Boise State University, Miami University and the University of Toledo are in the works.
Not only are universities adopting the new program, but high schools are implementing EGR 1010 as well. New legislation regarding the College Credit Plus program is pushing high schools to have pathways for students to achieve college credit for classes taken during their junior and senior years.
Wright State University-Addressing Real Engineering
Wright State University is addressing real engineering by teaching design, solving problems, using modern tools and making students understand why the math matters and how it connects to all of the rest of the stuff you do. They have partnered with Bellbrook High School for the past five to six years and the Dayton Regional STEM school for the past three years and offered EGR 1010 for dual credit to classes of seniors each year. Because of their proximity to the university, faculty from Wright State University have traveled to those schools to teach a section of the class.
While this is a great partnership, Wright State University has recognized the need for modes of delivery for schools NOT in a short radius around WSU. To this end, two more pathways to achieve WSU credit for EGR 1010 have been developed. The first is a co-teach model where a Wright State faculty member mentors a high school teacher who is interested in running a section of EGR 1010 at their high school. The second is a fully online asynchronous distance offering of EGR 1010. As of this coming fall 2015, this offering will be active and available to any student across the country who wants to take EGR 1010 from Wright State University.
Miamisburg High School will be the first to take advantage of the co-teach model this fall, while New Albany in the Columbus, Ohio, area will do so in spring 2016. In addition, Dayton Public Schools and the Miami Valley School District are currently in talks to implement EGR 1010 the following year. This is the next big thing in high school opportunity.
Wright State University: Engineering Class Success
Finally, the success of the Wright State Model for Engineering Mathematics Education can be seen in the lives of its students. For example, Josh Deaton is a Ph.D. engineer with his own company thanks to the Wright State Model. “A traditional curriculum would have been too much for me, just blasting myself with math without any of the creativity of engineering that I really liked,” said Deaton. “Had it not been for Wright State’s innovative curriculum, I very likely would have switched my major to business.” Deaton is now owner and principal engineer at Adjoint Technologies, which offers multiphysics simulation and computational design for complex engineering systems.
Due to its success, the curriculum is fully accessible to anybody wanting to improve their engineering program. All course notes and laboratories are freely available on their website at: http://cecs.wright.edu/community/engmath.
Craig Baudendistel currently serves as the director of engineering mathematics for the Engineering Department at WSU and also teaches for the Mechanical Engineering Department. He graduated with his B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. from WSU under the advisement of Dean Klingbeil and serves as the POC for anyone interested in running a section of EGR 1010. For more information feel free to contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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