One desired curriculum change was to add a second semester of general chemistry for all engineering first-year students. Chemical concentration students need this anyway, and we believed all engineering students would greatly benefit. This addition presented several challenges. First, of course, room had to be found in an already full curriculum. Second, and perhaps more daunting, first-year chemistry tended to be the least popular course among engineering students. As taught to a general audience, they saw little relevance of the material to their careers and often just did not “get it” as material was traditionally presented.
Making room for chemistry began with eliminating a 2-credit, second-semester freshman design course. Assessment data indicated students found this course too simplistic and too repetitive of the first semester. We feared we were losing some top students due to lack of challenge. Our 3- credit materials science course had some significant overlap in topics with the chemistry we wished to add. By combining the courses, some room was saved. Even more importantly, we felt that the two disciplines would complement each other and enhance the overall education in both. In a novel approach, the course is team-taught by faculty from chemistry and engineering.
The next challenge was how to engage all first-year engineering students in a chemistry course. We made the course technically challenging, believing it was not rigor that turned off engineers to chemistry. However, we set out from the beginning to teach the chemistry in a different way. Recognizing the practical, “what is it good for and why do I care” nature of even first-year engineers, we decided to intimately integrate the course material of chemistry and materials science. Chemical concepts are presented as the background to explain a material property or other chemical aspect necessary for good engineering design. Finally, we strive to include examples from each of our four engineering concentrations, to constantly reinforce that today, chemistry is essential for all engineers.
Course Format and Goals
While many educators have recognized the value of interdisciplinary courses or team teaching,2-8 we did not find examples of courses that take full advantage of the synergies between materials science and chemistry, particularly in an engineering course for multiple disciplines. At Calvin College, Engineering Chemistry and Materials Science is a four-credit hour, one-semester course for all first-year engineering students. It meets for four standard (50-minute) lecture periods a week and one three-hour lab period per week.† Teaching of both the lectures and labs is evenly split between the chemistry and engineering faculty (Table 1).
The course covers essentially all of the previous materials science course and about 50% of second-semester general chemistry. (Another 25% of general chemistry was distributed to a sophomore introduction to chemical engineering course that all engineering students take.) Five credits of lecture material were condensed to four, while adding labs. This was achieved by integrating course material to make use of overlapping content with chemistry. Also, the previous engineering course was taught at a relatively slower pace. A conscious decision was
Although such a schedule would be a five-credit course at some institutions, many introductory-level science
courses at Calvin College, including Chemistry, use this four-credit model.
Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2004, American Society for Engineering Education