This is the sixth issue of Success 101. Its purpose is to provide a forum for engineering faculty
and administrators, engineering student service staff, and minority engineering program staff to share ideas about
conducting an Introduction to Engineering course that will significantly enhance engineering students
success. Articles that appeared in the first five issues of Success 101 can be found on the Discovery Press
web page: www.discovery-press.com.
For this issue, I am taking the liberty of reprinting the first half of the preface of my text Studying
Engineering. I'm not sure whether people read prefaces in books, so I hope you'll read it here. The following
does about as good a job as I could do in explaining my philosophy:
We arent born knowing how to be effective. We learn how. We learn from our parents, from
our teachers, from our peers, and from supervisors and mentors. We learn from workshops and seminars, from reading
books, and from trial and error. Developing our effectiveness is a life-long process. Sometimes we get more help than
other times. For example, when we join an organization as a professional, we generally receive lots of help. The organization
benefits if we are successful, and so it takes steps to ensure that we are.
Industry executives are well aware that new engineering gradu
ates have a long way to go before they can "earn their salary." New engineering hires
are thus provided with formal training, on-the-job training, close supervision, progressively more challenging assignments,
and time to mature.
Strangely, when new students (or, in fact, new faculty) come to the university, they are left primarily
on their own to figure out how to be successful. Academic organizations seem more interested in evaluating their newest
members than in doing things to ensure that they succeed.
Within engineering education, this "sink or swim" approach is not working. Only about
forty percent of students who start engineering study ever graduate. Most drop out, flunk out, or change their majors.
And many of those who do graduate fail to work up to their full potential.
Even deans of engineering need training. As a new dean, I had four separate consultants in for
two days each to teach me (and my schools faculty) how to be effective in preparing for our upcoming accreditation
process. In addition, I have participated in formal training in personnel management, fund raising, Total Quality
Management, computer technology, and teaching methods.
If new engineering graduates and new engineering deans need orientation, training, mentoring, and
time to mature to be effective, how is it that as engineering educators we expect our students to know
how to go about the task of engineering study the day they arrive?
Sometimes it appears that we dont want our students to succeed. We seem to go out of our
way to avoid helping our students learn to be effective. Our view of subjects like professional development, academic
success strategies, personal development, and orientation is that they are not "academic." We are reluctant
to find room for them in our already full curricula.
But it even goes further than that. We sometimes seem pleased by the fact that many of our students
dont succeed. We find comfort in the view that "not everyone can be an engineer." Our approach is
to put up a difficult challenge and believe that we have done a service to the profession by "weeding out"
those who dont measure up. We tend to hold the black-and-white view that "some have it, and some dont."
If it were true that some students have it and some dont, then it probably wouldnt
make sense to devote time and effort to helping students develop the skills they need to succeed. It wouldnt
make a difference anyway. But this is one heck of a view for educators to have.
The good news, however, is that engineering education in the United States appears to be undergoing
a revolution. We are in the process of a shift from the "sink or swim" paradigm to one of "student
development." Engineering colleges all
across the nation are revising their freshman year curricula with the primary goal of enhancing
Although much of this curricular change involves moving more engineering content in areas such
as design, graphics, computing, problem solving, and creativity into the freshman year, I hope that many engineering
programs will find room for the "student development" content of this book in their freshman year curriculum.
The basic premise . . . is that a small amount of time spent working with students on how to be
effective early on can have an enormous payoff through the remainder of their college experience.
As Editor of this Success 101 newsletter, I am pleased to share these ideas I wrote in June,
1995 with you. I regret to say that they seem to have stood the test of time. I hope they don't stand up twenty years
CALL FOR PAPERS
ASEE Freshman Programs Division
The Freshman Programs Division is seeking papers for the 2000 ASEE Annual Conference,
June 18-21, 2000 in St. Louis, Missouri. Topics should focus on educational activities associated with first-year
engineering students. The division will consider papers in the following general topic areas: computer and computer
software use in instruction; advising and orientation programs; creative problem-solving courses; innovative approaches
to first-year engineering education; project-based learning and hands-on courses; retention programs; pre-college
programs and linkages with K-12 education; recruitment programs; professional ethics; and integrating design into
the freshman year. Submit a one-page abstract by September 30, 1999 to Dr. John B. Crittenden, Division of Engr. Fundamentals,
College of Engineering, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA 24061-0218 (Telephone:
(540) 231-9536; Fax: (540) 231-6903; E-mail: email@example.com)
Biographies of Successful Engineers
One strategy for strengthening students' commitment to engineering is exposure to role models. This
exposure can be accomplished by having students read biographies of successful engineers. The following is a review
prepared by Cal State L.A. Engineering Librarian Stephen Sottong of such a book. The book is available through: www.amazon.com.
Rocket Boys by Homer H. Hickam Jr., Delacorte Press.
(Paperback is titled October Sky)
Homer H. Hickam Jr. grew up in the 1950s in the West Virginia coal mining town of Coalwood. Most
of the young men in the town were fated to spend their lives in the coal mine until death from accident or Black
Lung released them from the dirt and drudgery. The only way out of Coalwood was the military or a football scholarship
to college. Into this scene in October of 1957 flew Sputnik, the first Russian satellite. Young Homer was fascinated
by the manmade star streaking across the sky and decided to build his own rockets. With the help of four friends
he set out on a course that would turn the group from amateurs to true rocket engineers. On the way they met resistance
from Homer's father, fellow classmates, teachers, and even the state police. They were aided by sympathetic townsfolk
and an extraordinary teacher who helped them to believe in themselves. Eventually their successful rocket experiments
led to wins at state and national science fairs. In a time when few coal miners' children made it to college, all
five of the "Rocket Boys" went on to college with three (including Homer) becoming engineers.
The book is an evocation of a time and place where people lived without hope of rising above
the life their families had always led even though the work endangered their lives and health. For Homer Hickham,
a dream moved him out of that life and into a career as a NASA engineer. The book is powerful and highly readable.
I strongly recommend it.
If a fine book about the young life of an engineer is unusual, a movie is almost unheard of.
"October Sky" is now in broad release. The movie simplifies the book somewhat, but remains true to the
feel and most of the action. The cinematography and acting are outstanding, and it has been well reviewed by the
critics (two thumbs up). At the showing I attended, the audience broke into spontaneous applause at the end of the
film. The film was beautiful and inspiring. Don't miss it.
The following list, provided by Dr. Janet Fisher-Hoult, Director of the Cal State L.A. Center for
Effective Teaching and Learning, of what students do and how they benefit from active learning, underscores why
an Introdution to Engineering course, of all courses, should be conducted as a "student centered"
Students talk, listen, write, and think about course content.
Students participate in activities that engage them in problem solving.
Students practice critical thinking skills; they analyze, synthesize, evaluate ideas.
Students do things and think about what they're doing.
Students practice critiquing and defending opinions.
Students learn from each other and about each other's perspectives.
Students learn to work cooperatively.
Material becomes more meaningful; students learn more and retain it longer.
Students develop feelings of self-efficacy.
Students are more motivated, attentive, and engaged.
Students develop interest in and competence for lifelong learning.
Teachers and students have more fun.
Meet the Authors
ASEE ANNUAL CONFERENCE IN CHARLOTTE
Come visit us (Steve Cheshier, Ray Landis, and Marty Roden) at the Discovery Press booth (#513)
in the Exhibit Hall at the ASEE Annual Conference, June 21-23, 1999 in Charlotte, North Carolina. We would be
pleased to talk with you about our three texts Studying Engineering Technology: A Blueprint for Success by
Stephen R. Cheshier, Studying Engineering: A Road Map to a Rewarding Career by R. B. Landis and Electronic
Design: From Concept to Reality, Third Edition by M. Roden and G. Carpenter.
You are also invited to attend Session #3453 and Session #3247. In Session #3453, sponsored by
the ASEE Freshman Programs Division, Ray Landis will present a paper entitled "Improving Engineering Guidance:
Introduction to Engineering for High School Teachers and Counselors." The session is scheduled from 12:30
p.m. - 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday, June 23, 1999. In Session #3247, sponsored by ASEE Engineering Technology Division,
Steve Cheshier will present a paper entitled "Needed: Student Success Courses for Beginning Engineering Technology
Students." The session is scheduled from 8:30 a.m. - 10:15 a.m. on Wednesday, June 23, 1999.
by M.G. Prasad, Stevens Institute of Technology
I am one of several instructors teaching a new course E101, Freshman Seminar at Stevens Institute
of Technology. I meet with my section (24 students) once a week for 90 minutes. This course is part of the new
engineering curriculum at Stevens. We are using the book Studying Engineeering by Ray Landis as the text.
Also, we had a workshop with Dr. Landis in August, 1998.
I enjoy teaching this course as it provides an opportunity for me to focus on and emphasize the
importance of non-engineering knowledge, which is essential to develop a successful engineer. Before we instituted
this course at Stevens, I had touched upon such material in my regular engineering courses for the past 18 years.
However, now through a course like freshman seminar, students' personal development can be part of studying engineering
In order to make all the freshmen in my section (24 students) speak and participate in focused
thinking and discussion, I required each student to speak extempore. I prepared a large number of single word
topics on small paper slips and asked students to pick one for their extempore in the class. I call this exercise
"brainsurfing" because the whole class had to focus on the topic in question.
I gave the students the following list of topics to choose from:
Education, Success, Money, Ecology, Spirituality, Engineering, Computer, Humanity, Culture,
Values, Greed, Examination, Grades, Goals, Knowledge, Arts, Music, Languages, Happiness, Questions, Satisfaction,
Respect, Curiosity, Religion, Science, Technology, Time, Nature, Plan, Limitations, Profession, Beauty,
Friendship, Long-term, Short-term, Discipline.
During the presentations, students asked questions and made comments. If no questions came from
other students, then I asked a question to trigger the discussion. Some examples of discussions were:
Greed: The speaker began by writing on the board "Greed is bad." In response
to this, many students argued that greed could be seen as a positive incentive for an entrepreneur. After some
discussion, the speaker modified his statement on the board to "Greed is not good."
Grades: The student spoke about how grades could reflect performance on tests and not necessarily
reflect the ability of the student in terms of understanding the material.
Discipline: The speaker on this topic described how reduction in class time in the college
schedule (compared to high school) provides more freedom. This means that discipline to study has to be self-imposed.
Each topic generated a lot of interesting discussions and arguments. This brainsurfing extempore
took almost two meetings. Everyone in the class spoke on one of the topics from the above list.
In the past, I usually started my class with a puzzle (optical, mathematical, scientific, general,
etc.). Students seemed to like brainsurfing better as a way to start the class. Through such an exercise, a freshman
seminar can be effective in helping students make the transition from high school to college.
Multiple Choice Exams
Ray Landis has prepared three 25-question multiple choice exams for instructors to use with his
text Studying Engineering. The first exam covers Chapters 1 and 2; the second exam covers Chapters 3 and
4; and the third exam covers Chapters 5 and 6.
Although essay and short answer exams would be more effective in measuring students comprehension
and retention of the material in the text, the multiple choice exams provide a tool for the instructor to use
(without excessive grading time demands) to motivate students to take assignments to read the text seriously.
To receive copies of the three exams and solution keys, send your name, title, and mailing address
Predicting Student Success in Engineering
By Barbara Engerer, Valparaiso University
Advisers often try to predict student success in engineering. Measures such as SAT scores and
high school class rank are used with some success, but many times students with good scores do not succeed, and
students with marginal scores do succeed.
A 1995 article by Vivian Anderson ("Identifying Special Advising Needs of Women Engineering
Students," Journal of College Student Development, Vol. 36, No. 4, 1995, pp. 322-329) gives some insights
into another factor which may be involved. Anderson interviewed 40 women engineering students and found three
routes that the women took to get into engineering.
The first group chose engineering because of the influence of an engineering role model. They
had a parent or close relative who either told them about engineering, or whose personality was similar enough
that they thought they might enjoy the same career. Students in this group were happy with their career choice
and were doing well.
The second group chose engineering after a career search. They looked into various possibilities
and chose engineering for themselves. This group had more mixed results. Some had lost their enthusiasm for engineering,
or had not chosen their field well.
The third group chose engineering only because someone else, usually a guidance counselor, suggested
it. They were good at math and science and someone told them that they should try engineering. Students in this
group had the most difficulty and were the most discouraged.
Anderson suggests that students in the third group are most in need of good advising and encouragement.
Students who choose engineering only because they are good at math and science, and then get Cs in physics
and calculus will be much more likely to quit than students with the same grades who chose engineering because
they know about it. She believes that this is particularly a problem for women in engineering. (I believe that
an increasing number of men fall into this group too.)
One way to use these ideas is to conduct a brief survey early in the first semester. For example:
___ I know an engineer well and decided on engineering because of him/her.
___ I looked into careers and decided that engineering would fit in with my talents and interests.
___ My guidance counselor or parents think that engineering would fit in with my talents and
Students choosing the third category are then tagged for extra advising. Or, the survey could
be discussed in an Introduction to Engineering class, so that the students themselves are aware of the potential
problems. While no statistical study of this classification method has been done, it does add an extra tool for
predicting student success in engineering.
The Blind Men, The Elephant, and Concurrent Engineering
(With Apologies to John Godfrey Saxe: 1816 - 1887)
It was six men of Indostan, to learning much inclined,
Who went to see the elephant (though all of them were blind),
That each by observation might satisfy his mind.
The first approached the elephant, and, happening to fall
Against his broad and burly side, at once began to call:
"I see," said he, "the elephant is very like a wall!"
The second, feeling of the tusk, cried, "Ho! What have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp? To me 'tis mighty clear
This wonder of an elephant is very like a spear!"
The third approached the animal, and, happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands, thus boldly up and spake,
"I see," said he, "the elephant is very like a snake!"
The fourth reached out his eager hand and felt about the knee:
"What most this wondrous beast is like is mighty plain," said he,
"'Tis clear enough the elephant is very like a tree!"
The fifth, who chanced to touch the ear, said, "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most. Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an elephant is very like a fan!"
The sixth no sooner had begun about the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail that fell within his scope,
"I see," said he, "the elephant is very like a rope!"
And so these men of Indostan disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right, and all were in the wrong!
So oft in group endeavors, the members of the team
Rail on in utter ignorance of what each other mean,
As if it were an elephant not one of them has seen.
(Submitted by Gretchen L. Van Meer, Northern Illinois University)
Teaching Students about Impasses\
The dictionary defines impasse as: "difficulty without solution." I have an impasse.
I love to watch football! So what's the problem? My wife thinks watching football is the stupidest thing anyone
could ever do. So if I watch too much football, it upsets my wife. If I don't watch football, then I feel deprived.
This sounds like "difficulty without solution"¾an impasse. No solution? No. Almost always, the solution to an impasse is balance. I watch some football,
but not so much that it upsets my wife.
An Introduction to Engineering course having a student development focus is an excellent place
to teach engineering students about impasses. Students can relate to impasses because they almost all have the
same one¾the competing demands of work and play. One part of a student wants to study hard, make good grades, and
get all of the rewards associated with that. Another part wants to relax, have fun, party, be with their friends.
And they can't do both. As with most impasses, the answer is balance.
The following is an excerpt from page 151 of my text Studying Engineering that presents
a lesson to students:
One important aspect of your mental state is the balance you strike between immediate and
future gratification. By seeking too much immediate gratification and therefore not getting your work done,
you are likely to feel guilty. You'll probably then worry about the fact that you are not studying, putting
yourself in a mental state in which you cannot study.
On the other hand if you work too much, too long, or too hard, you begin to feel deprived.
Feelings of deprivation and resentment can begin to sabotage your commitment. You may begin to doubt whether
the sacrifice is worth it.
What you need to find is a proper balance between work and play. One approach is to tie work
and play together through a system of work and reward yourself for work. Rewards can be small things, like taking
a break, going for a walk, watching your favorite TV show, or taking an hour for recreational reading. Or they
could be larger things, such as going to a party, buying yourself some new clothes, or going away for the weekend
with a friend. The point is that, rather than take the view that the work you're doing will not have a payoff
until far into the future, you provide yourself with frequent and immediate rewards for your hard work.
Letter to the Editor
I read your "Name Game" with interest. While I don't teach Engineering, I work with
Science and Engineering students through the UT System AMP program. I have an icebreaker/name game that might
be of interest to others.
I tell the students that it's very important we know each other as we work together throughout
the semester. Then I tell them that I want each of us to introduce ourselves. The catch is everyone has to tell
something funny or unusual that has happened to them. I begin. I say, "I am Jayne Pynes, and five years
ago, my fiancée's car burned up, so we got married in a Mega Wedding." Of course, this piques my students'
curiosity. I then explain what the "Mega Wedding" is (a mass wedding on Valentine's Day sponsored
by the local radio station for which my brother works). And then, as funny as I can, I tell the story.
Then I give the students a chance to think about what they want to say. As each student starts,
it's important to get his or her name. Once a story is told, the facilitator must relate an important fact to
the person's name for the whole group. For instance, last week I had a student talk about how she had named
her cat "Unfriendly." So when she finished telling her story, I said, "So Sarah has an Unfriendly
cat." With each student, I relate an important fact to their name. Once we are done, the facilitator
goes through and names everyone and the association that has been established. Then have one (or perhaps two)
do the same. It is amazing how well this works. Because humor and repetition is involved, retention of names
and comfort level with each other increases.
It does take time, anywhere from 30 minutes (with a group of 8-10) to 1-1/2 hours for a group
of 40 to 50. Of course, variations can be added (breaking groups down, etc.). The time investment is well worth
it. I find that I know the students when I see them outside of seminar, important because I can greet them by
name and laugh rather than nod and wonder who they are. They seem much more comfortable. I know I am. Raising
their comfort level helps to build that learning community that is a factor in retention and success.
I have found the ideas in Success 101 very beneficial.
AMP Program Coordinator
University of Texas at El Paso
An "Introduction to Engineering and Engineering Technology" Course for
High School Students - Part III
by Cynthia S. Hirtzel, Temple University
This is the third column devoted to describing a course entitled "Introduction to Engineering
and Engineering Technology" developed for high school students (the first column appeared in the Fall 1996
issue of this newsletter). As described in previous columns, the primary textbook for the course is Studying
Engineering by Dean Ray Landis. In addition, the philosophy, ideas, and motivation for the course are based
on Dr. Landis work, research, and experience with student development and success. In particular, a major
motivation for developing the course was to provide a foundation for student success in college, irrespective
of whether or not the students taking the course were intending to pursue engineering or engineering technology
majors in college.
An outline of the course as offered to seniors at the Carver High School of Engineering and
Science in Philadelphia was given in the first column. In the second column, a brief discussion of the "day
one getting-to-know-you" exercise and the first assignment using problems from the first chapter were described.
A key component of that first assignment was to get to know the students, to engage students in some "self-examination"
and to encourage them to start thinking seriously and in a focused manner about the "Keys to Success in
Engineering Study" [Chapter 1 of Dr. Landis text].
In Chapter 1 and throughout the text, two of the skills and qualities that are identified and
emphasized as important to success as an engineer/engineering student are teamwork (see, for example, Chapter
1.7, page 13); and leadership abilities (see, for example, Chapters 1 and 5). One of the objectives of this
course was to provide opportunities for learning about being a team player and about being a leader. In this
column, two of the projects used in the course are briefly described.
The first project was based on an activity designed to facilitate team building, "Jungle
Escape." [This team adventure activity kit and series is available for $245 plus shipping from HRDQ in
King of Prussia, PA. Telephone: 1-800-633-4533] The instructor serves as the facilitator and teams of four students
each were formed. The premise of this activity is that the group has crash-landed in a remote part of a jungle
while on a mission to deliver unassembled helicopters to some site. The objective of each group is to assemble
the parts of the helicopter into a working unit, so that the group can escape the crash site. The kit comes
with work-books for each team, the helicopter parts, and a guide for the facilitator/instructor. The guide includes
instructions for the activity, learning goals, project discussion, and assessment tools to evaluate how have
the teams performed. Each team member workbook has a sheet entitled, "How Did We Function as a Team?"
that students can use to evaluate their performance as a team and use as a guide to think about what the team
might do differently while working on their next project together.
Additional team projects gave students the opportunity to try out suggestions that they themselves
derived from the first team activity. These team projects included, for example, a solar energy project consisting
of a series of several simple experiments, collection and analysis of data, and comparison of data across different
teams. Another project involved the making and testing of a variety of different paper airplanes. This activity
used paper airplane designs and flying and testing instructions from the book, "The World Record Paper
Airplane Book" by Ken Blackburn and Jeff Lammers, Workman Publishing [available on www.amazon.com]. Student
teams built and tested different designs, collected data [airplane type, location, longest time aloft, greatest
distance, number of flights, and date of test], both indoors and out-of-doors, and then analyzed the data in
spreadsheet form. After each team analyzed and presented their own data, results and conclusions, the different
plane designs were then analyzed to determine which plane did "best." Again, teams evaluated their
performance as a team and revisited the questions related to "how did we function as a team?" and
what can we do differently next time.
In closing this column, I would like to reiterate how useful Dr. Landis philosophy and ideas
about "Introduction to Success," his course, and his text are. In particular, it should be emphasized how
useful this text is to all students (e.g., the seniors at Carver High School of Science and Engineering who
took the course described here), not just those students who wish to major in engineering or engineering technology.
Letter to the Editor
I wanted to send you a short note on how much I enjoyed your book. It covers the subject of
engineering education at the university level from soup to nuts in an easy, readable style. Furthermore, it
represents a practical, "how to" guide in getting the most out of the students' engineering experience
at the undergraduate level. I also found that your personal anecdotes added immeasur-ably to the honesty with
which the material was presented.
In fact, the School of Engineering currently mails out a complimentary copy of your book to
each of our incoming engineering freshmen. I hope that you will update the material as it becomes necessary
(e.g., statistics and such) in subsequent editions.
Much success in your future endeavors.
Assistant Dean of Engr.
Using the "Name Game" in Classes Creates a Learning Community
By Don Dekker, Rose-Hulman
After attending the Chautauqua course "Achieving Student Success through a Model Introduction
to Engineering Course" in March, 1998 in Los Angeles, I decided to use the "Name Game" in my
classes. One of the most impressive aspects of the Chautauqua course was the interaction of the attendees. I
give the course instructors total credit for the way they organized the attendees at round tables of eight and
then rotated the attendees to different tables and used the "Name Game" after each rotation. Personally,
I was totally amazed at how this simple technique changed the atmosphere of the course. Some people knew the
names of everyone (about 50) by the end of the course! This convinced me that I should try to use the "Name
Game" to create a learning community in all of my classes.
This version of the name game is different than I had seen before. In this version, the participants
continue to go around the table saying names until everyone knows and can say the name of all the participants
at that table. If you forget a name, that person just tells you his/her name again. It is not a competition
to determine who can get the names the fastest. This game convinced me that repetition of the names works.
When I returned to Rose-Hulman, I used the name game in a discussion class¾Fundamentals of Engineering Management. To my amazement, after we
did the name game, I knew the names of all the students! This was a fun, painless way to learn the students'
names. In the past, I had taken photographs and tried other techniques to learn the students' names. This was
much more fun, and then the students also knew each other's names!
During the winter quarter this year, I used the name game in another discussion class¾Creative Design. In this class, I try to change the format and help the students discover rather than
listen to me lecture. In the past, it has taken three to five weeks for the students to feel comfortable enough
to share their feelings and thoughts with each other. This spring, I, of course, used the name game, Although
it was the largest enrollment I have had, 33 students, the difference was wonderful! From the very first day,
the students were interacting and sharing in a way that usually took three to five weeks to develop before!
Of course, I also had the advantage of learning all of the students names. As one student wrote on the course
evaluations, "Its amazing how much you can learn when youre having a good time. I learned everyones
name in the first day!"
Using the name game made me realize that students, like professors, will not really speak to
each other or ask questions of each other if they do not know each others names. Learning the names of
other students in the class must be first. Learning names is the start of building a learning community in every
Success Courses for Beginning
Engineering Technology Students: Part I - The Need
by Stephen R. Cheshier, Southern Polytechnic State University
[Note: This article is excerpted from a paper by the same title, Proceedings of the 1999
ASEE Annual Conference. Part II will appear in the fall, 1999 issue of Success 101]
Engineering technology enrollments have been in decline, especially in the electrical and mechanical
disciplines, for over a decade. Additionally, retention rates are poor in most technical programs, including
ET, often with less than half of those matriculating as freshmen persisting to graduation.
The causes of these problems are undoubtedly many, but several can be successfully addressed
by requiring a well designed orientation and success course for beginning ET students. The need for such a course,
as well as its basic elements, will be discussed in this article.
It has long been known that high school counselors and teachers, as well as students and parents,
are generally unfamiliar with the subtle differences between engineering and engineering technology. While this
presents a challenge for recruitment, it also means that students may find themselves in a program that they
misunderstand and about which they may have unrealistic expectations. Further, even if they generally understand
the nature of engineering technology academic programs, they may not understand the types of careers that they
are preparing to enter, since they may not have even a basic understanding of industry. They may therefore have
minimal motivation to persist.
Of course, while helping students understand their field gives them an advantage, another major
problem is that many of today's students are not "school smart." That is, they have not developed
good academic success skills, often even failing their early courses for reasons that could have been easily
corrected or even prevented. Too many of these students are eventually lost from ET programs.
While my text, Studying Engineering Technology: A Blueprint for Success (Discovery Press,
1998) addresses these issues, this article will build on that material by identifying (more fully) the need
for an ET orientation course.
Most of my teaching as a full time professor was done in the 60's and 70's. During the 80s,
I became a full-time administrator, teaching only on an occasional basis. During the last several years, after
retiring from being a full-time administrator, I took a sabbatical to prepare to re-enter the classroom. The
sabbatical involved sitting in on classes, observing students in a variety of settings, and teaching.
Needless to say, today's students are quite different from those I taught several decades ago,
and I found myself in some state of culture shock for a while. Today's students, especially at moderately selective
and open admissions institutions, come from backgrounds that in many cases have not prepared them well for post-secondary
education. While we can decry the reasons for this, we must deal with the input we receive, preparing as many
as we can for successful careers.
The sad state of affairs today is that, in spite of our efforts as collegiate educators, we
are able to retain only an embarrassingly small fraction of our students until graduation (30 - 50% is fairly
typical in many ET programs). Certainly there is an obvious financial advantage in retaining "paying customers",
since at a retention rate of 33%, three new students must be recruited to replace each graduating senior.
While some students come to college for all of the wrong reasons, and may never have been a
match for an ET program, most students who enroll in these programs do have a genuine interest in things technological
and see themselves enjoying a career as an engineering technician or technologist. These students have satisfied
the admission requirements and should be able to complete the program, but often they do not.
In writing a book designed to serve as a basis for student success courses, I identified a number
of areas that beginning students need to know about, hopefully to provide them needed information before they
get discouraged and leave the program through failure or lack of interest.
Let me share a few observations to illustrate the challenges we face. In my most recent observations,
some students exhibit these negative behaviors in that they:
do not buy the required textbook
rarely read the entire assignment if they do buy the text
do not take notes in class (or take meaningless notes)
do not turn in all required homework assignments
miss or are late for classes and labs without excuse
show up late or even miss quizzes that were announced well in advance
think the tests are far too difficult
do not take advantage of optional extra credit opportunities
do not participate or ask questions in class, even when it is clear they do not understand the
do not seek out faculty during office hours for needed help
sleep through class
want to learn only those things that will be on the test
seem to have no natural curiosity or interest in learning beyond what is needed to earn course
credit so they can promptly forget that material and move on to the next required course
expect to complete most course requirements in the last few weeks of the term
Of course, these behaviors do not define all students, or even the majority, but enough students
exhibit these behaviors to be of concern. Students who do not quickly change these to more positive, productive
behaviors will have little chance of success.
While I now take a class period to carefully go over success topics as obvious as these, as
well as carefully explaining all course requirements and my expectations, this is just the bare minimum overview
of necessary "academic success strategies." Clearly this is not enough for many students, and they
go on to be a casualty of the program.
I believe, especially with the preparation, attitude, study habits, and understanding of the
nature of technical education exhibited by most of today's entering freshmen, that a structured academic success
course can pay great dividends in improving retention and student success in our ET programs. We can do our
students a great favor if we take the time to help them build their "blueprint for success" before
they either do poorly in their coursework, or even lose interest and fail.
Certainly we can find room in our curricula for a one or two credit course to teach academic
success skills. What could be more important? While we talk a lot about the importance of nurturing and helping
our students (rather than the old paradigm of trying to make the programs "tough enough" to flunk
out all but the most deserving), we still often behave in a way that will discourage students.
Although we no longer say to freshmen, "look to your right and look to your left; two of
the three of you will not graduate," we too often fail to equip our students with the necessary success
tools and skills so that these high failure rates will not occur.
[Note: Next issue - Part 2: Course Design]
Thoughts to Ponder
M. G. Prasad, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology, sent in
the following thoughts. Divide your Introduction to Engineering students into small groups and have them discuss
what these thoughts mean to them.
Learning has a beginning but no end, whereas ignorance has no beginning but an end.
Learning to teach a subject makes one learn that subject better.
The true personality of a person is shown by what the person really thinks of others.
That which is inevitable can only be understood.
The real human values do not change; it is only the ways we regard these values that changes.
The more one understands one's limitations, the more one understands one's freedom.
As one can only speak of part of the whole, it is wiser to attempt to see the whole.
In the short run, perception can be stronger than fact but in the long run fact survives.
It is the unison in thought, speech, and action that great people strive for in life.
The shorter the speech, the longer it takes to prepare.
The quality of a work is in its details.
Intelligence results in harmony rather than conflict between short and long term goals.
NSF-Sponsored Chautauqua Short Course
Enhancing Student Success through a Model "Introduction to Engineering Course
Join other engineering faculty, minority engineering program staff, and engineering student
services staff in a three-day short course to share and learn strategies and approaches for enhancing engineering
The next offering of this course is:
May 17-19, 1999 at the University of Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Participants will learn the content and pedagogy for accomplishing important objectives under
five key themes:
The course should be of interest to those working to enhance student success through summer
orientations, formal academic year courses, or formal and informal advising and mentoring.
The format of the course will be strongly interactive with emphasis placed on group problem
solving and experiential learning.
The course will be co-facilitated by Dr. Raymond B. Landis, Dean of Engineering and Technology
at California State University, Los Angeles and Dr. Edward Prather, Assistant Dean of Engineering at the University
The only cost for attending the course is a $40 application fee. Participants will be responsible
for their travel expenses and accommodations.
You may register on-line at:
www.engrng.pitt.edu/~chautauq (click on "On Line Application")
Registration by Mail or Fax
To register by mail or fax, contact: Dr. Nicholas G. Eror, Department of Materials Science and
Engineering, University of Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh, PA 15261 Telephone: (412) 624-9761 Fax: (412) 624-1108 E-mail:
Exposure to Industry
Issue #1 (spring, 1996) of Success 101 contained an article that outlined an exercise
designed to strengthen students' commitment to engineering by exposing them to the Standard Industrial Classification
(SIC) code of the Federal Government. In 1996, the only access to the SIC codes was through the Standard
Industrial Classification Manual published by the Office of Management and Budget. Now, I am pleased to
say that the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) of the U.S. Department of Labor has put
the entire SIC code on the internet:
Under SIC, there are eighty-two, two-digit SIC codes (in the range from 01 to 99) each indicating
a major industry group. For example, Major Group 38 is "Measuring, Analyzing, and Controlling Instruments;
Photographic, Medical and Optical Goods, Watches and Clocks." Within Major Group 38, there are six industry
subgroups, each having a three-digit SIC code. For example, Industry Group No. 384 is "Surgical, Medical,
and Dental Instruments and Supplies." And within Industry Group No. 384, there are five industries, each
having a four-digit SIC code. For example, Industry No. 3845 is "Electrotherapeutic Apparatus." And
within Industry No. 3845, there is a list of 30 apparatuses, each representing a collection of companies that
make that product, most of which would use engineers.
One way to bring the vast range of opportunities to the attention of students is to have them
choose one such product (e.g., lithotripters) and research what companies are involved in the manufacture of
this product and how they use engineers in their organization. Quickly accessing such a product is now facilitated
since the SIC code can be easily accessed and quickly scanned on the web. And the lessons from the article on
page 15 regarding "Informational Interviews" can be put to good use in completing this exercise.
Firsthand knowledge of how much activity there is in just one of literally tens of thousands
of product areas can be very motivational to students. And they may very well develop an interest in an area
and contacts in a company that could lead them to a future employment opportunity.
Human Maze Exercise
by Ben Mendez, University of Houston
"Show me your friends and I'll show you your future!" Getting to know your fellow
students is a key to being a successful student. It is very common for students to sit just a few feet apart
all semester in a classroom and not know each other. In the long run, no one benefits from this situation.
Students can learn so much from each other. It is almost a must for students to work together
in passing courses in engineering. After all, engineering is about group problem-solving¾teams of people working together to come up with the solution to
Another important aspect of becoming a successful student is getting to know campus resources.
Many students go to a university for years and never have been inside the library, placement center, health
One way to get students to know each other and at the same time make them aware of all the important
resources on their campus is to set up a human maze or scavenger hunt.
Students are asked to locate five to ten markers (e.g., statues, paintings, specific offices,
specific people's desks, etc.). The students are divided into groups of three to five. Their task is to find
the shortest route that touches all markers. Sometimes this requires students to go through buildings or offices.
Other times they must go around buildings.
The students must write detailed instructions on how to get from each marker to the next. The
winner of the game is the group that comes up with the shortest route from the beginning point to the ending
The object is to help students become familiar with buildings, offices, administrators, faculty,
services, and organizations. At the same time, they get to know each other.
by Ray Landis
Power comes to people from at least three places:
First year engineering students don't realize the "power" that they can exert through
their position as a student. Everybody relates to students. We were all there and most of us who are successful
recognize the role what we accomplished as a student has done to enhance the quality of our life.
Students who realize how people feel about their time as a student can use this to their benefit
through informational interviews. The following was excerpted from page 189 of Studying Engineering and
explains the concept of informational interviews to students:
The informational interview is not a job interview. It is an information gathering session.
In a job interview, the employer is interviewing you. In an informational interview, you are interviewing
How do you arrange an informational interview? A good way is through networking.
Perhaps through a friend or a member of your family you get the name of an engineering manager at a local
company. You then telephone that person, using the name of your friend or family member as a reference, and
ask for 20 or 30 minutes of their time to learn about the kind of work that they do and about the company.
Although personal referrals are helpful, you can arrange informational interviews without
them. Any alumnus of your engineering program would very likely be willing to meet with you. Or you can just
use the fact that you are an engineering student and would like to learn more about career opportunities in
engineering as entree. Call a local engineering firm and ask to speak to the chief engineer. If you can't
reach him or her, you will probably be referred to someone at a lower level. You can then truthfully say that
you were referred by the chief engineers office and would like to meet with them to learn more about
what their company does.
In preparing for the informational interview, make up a list of questions you plan to ask.
The following are some examples:
What do you do in your current position?
What are the most satisfying aspects of your work?
What is your educational background?
Which of the courses you took in college have been the most useful to you?
What was your first job after college?
How did you go about getting that position?
How is your companys business picture?
What is the future hiring situation?
Do you think that it is important for engineer ing students to get some engineering-related
Can you advise me as to how to go about getting a position that will give me that expe
Remember, people enjoy helping others and giving advice. And people like to talk about
themselves. Recall the story of the coal salesman, Mr. Knaphle, in Chapter 3. By showing that you are interested
in other people and want to learn from them, they will become interested in you. You may find that they offer
to help you get a summer job without you even asking. If not, you can always send them an application for
employment at a future date.
You are invited to visit the Discovery Press web page (www.discovery-press.com). The web page
contains various resources designed to support instructors of "student success" courses for engineering
and engineering technology students. These include the following:
Information on how to order Studying Engineering: A Road Map to a Rewarding Career
and Studying Engineering Technology: A Blueprint for Success.
Chapter 2 of Studying Engineering (Chapter can be downloaded and copied for distribution).
High school students, teachers, and counselors can be referred to this chapter for "guidance" on
engineering as a career.
Past issues of Success 101 Newsletter.
Papers by R. B. Landis:
"Improving Student Success Through a Model Introduction to Engineering Course,"
Proceedings of 1992 ASEE Annual Conference, June 1992.
"Student Development: An Alternative to Sink or Swim," Proceedings
of 1994 ASEE Annual Conference, June 1994.
"Building Student Commitment to Engineering," Proceedings of 1995 ASEE Annual
Conference, June, 1995.
"Enhancing Engineering Student Success: A Pedagogy for Changing Behaviors," Proceedings
of 1997 ASEE Annual Conference, June, 1997.
"Enhancing Engineering Student Success: Working with Students to Change Their Attitudes,"
Proceedings of 1998 ASEE Annual Conference, June, 1998.
"Improving Engineering Guidance: Introduction to Engineering for High School Teachers
and Counselors," Proceedings of 1999 ASEE Annual Conference, June, 1999.
Sample syllabus of Cal State L.A. course, ENGR 100, "Introduction to Engineering,"
Links to sample syllabi from "Introduction to Engineering" courses at other universities.
CALL FOR PAPERS
Success 101 is published twice yearly (May 1 and December 1) and mailed to approximately
3,000 engineering and engineering technology educators. We are seeking articles for the Fall, 1999 issue.
Deadline October 15, 1999
Submissions may range from very short (e.g., quotes, exercises, activities) to up to two pages
in the newsletter (opinion pieces, success stories, letters to the editor). Submit (preferably by e-mail or
on disk) to:
c/o Dr. Raymond B. Landis
School of Engineering and Technology
California State University, Los Angeles
Los Angeles, CA 90032
Telephone: (323) 343-4500