Chemistry and Materials Science for All Engineering Disciplines: A Novel Interdisciplinary Team-Teaching Approach
Jennifer J. VanAntwerp, Jeremy G. VanAntwerp, Douglas A. Vander Griend, W. Wayne Wentzheimer Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan
A novel first-year course (Engineering Chemistry and Materials Science) was created to broaden the technical foundation in the BSE program at Calvin College. The content of the new course was drawn from two established courses – an engineering course in materials science (which was subsequently eliminated) and the second semester of first-year chemistry (which most engineering students did not previously take). In an innovative format, the course is team-taught by faculty from the engineering and chemistry departments. The material is integrated, so that the chemistry is motivated by relation to engineering properties, while the materials science is more thoroughly grounded in scientific principles. This allows greater conceptual depth for the materials science than was present in the previous stand-alone course. It also provides all engineering students with a greater chemistry background, and makes the chemistry seem more relevant and interesting. A weekly lab illustrates concepts, attracts the attention of hands-on learners, and is also integrative. For example, in one lab period students synthesize several polymers. The next lab period, they test various material properties of those polymers, relating these observations back to the structures they now know well. The course material is technical and challenging. Students enjoy the challenge, whereas the course previously taken by second- semester freshmen bored many students because they found it too simple, and repetitive of the first-semester freshman design course. The new interdisciplinary course has been successful in two years of being taught. Students particularly appreciate the lab, saying it makes the lecture more interesting, relevant, and easier to understand. Faculty see more student engagement with the material. Initial data indicate significant improvement in first-year-to-sophomore year retention rates.
As engineering has developed in the late twentieth century the importance of chemistry has been rapidly increasing. As National Academy of Engineering president Bill Wulf has identified, “chemical … sciences are becoming fundamental to engineering” and need to be fully incorporated into the curriculum.1 Calvin College recognized a need for more extensive chemistry preparation for all of its BSE graduates. Also, the recent addition of a Chemical concentration (joining Mechanical, Civil, and Electrical/Computer) presented an ideal opportunity to rework the common first two years of the program.
Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2004, American Society for Engineering Education