Dordt College News

Engineering keeps up with times

August 12, 2009

Graduates from Dordt's engineering department leave with a strong engineering background that is versatile enough to meet today's changing challenges.

Engineering teachers, like those in other fields, know that good teaching demands keeping up-to-date with developments in their field and with how their students learn best. The engineering faculty recently addressed those issues in its regular reevaluation of its program, putting into place some changes this fall.

According to Dr. Ethan Brue, the department asked several questions, among them: How well are we doing what we say we’re doing? In other words: Are we achieving the intended objectives and outcomes of our program?  How do students learn best?  What is industry expecting of engineering graduates? What are graduate schools expecting of our students?

The revisions fall into four areas:
• Strengthening the civil-environmental emphasis
• Increasing cross-disciplinary coursework
• Improving pedagogy
• Stressing engineering fundamentals

The civil-environmental emphasis is the fastest growing of the four emphases in Dordt’s engineering major. With the addition of Civil Engineer Justin Vander Werff last year, the department has added advanced structural courses to give students a stronger background for entering graduate school or industry.

“The world is changing and traditional categories of engineering are often too narrowly defined for the multifaceted problems confronting engineers in today’s world,” said Brue. As a result, engineering faculty members are focusing even more on providing opportunities for cross-disciplinary coursework.

“One of the strengths of Dordt’s engineering program is that it offers students a comprehensive and broad-based education,” said Brue. The number of “shared courses” between our electrical, mechanical, civil-environmental, and bio-tech emphases has increased slightly, eliminating unnecessary repetition in the overall program and giving students in all emphases a broader base of knowledge for working on solutions to the problems they will have to solve.

World-wide, engineering education is changing from its traditional theoretical and abstract approaches, to teaching methods that incorporate project-based and application-oriented team learning experiences. All students learn differently. By using a variety of teaching and learning strategies, students will better grasp the concepts being taught. In the introduction to engineering course, first year students will spend more time in hands-on research and design projects relating to electrical, civil, and mechanical engineering.   In upper level courses such as control systems, students will connect abstract theoretical and mathematical modeling to tangible mechanical and electrical systems by doing physical system modeling and process automation.

Dordt’s program will continue to emphasize the importance of engineering fundamentals so that students are prepared for the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam (the first step toward professional licensure).  Last spring’s class of engineering grads earned a perfect pass rate on the FE exam, as did eight of the last nine graduating classes. Dordt engineering graduates have earned a ninety-eight percent average pass rate over the past nine years, putting them far above the national average pass rate (seventy-seven percent) for seniors from all engineering institutions taking the test for the first time.

Even more important than teaching students to do well on the FE exam, however, is preparing engineering graduates to be life-long learners, said Brue.  A strong foundation in the fundamentals of engineering and problem solving opens the door for service in many different areas of engineering.

Engineering design is always changing because engineers are continually seeking better ways to serve people and care for the world, according to faculty members.  Excellent engineering education is no different; strong programs must explore how they can do things better.  That’s what makes the task of engineering and engineering education both challenging and exciting.


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