College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Making the most of the freshman year

The freshman year at any university, and particularly in a rigorous engineering program, can be challenging – a new place, new social connections, and new academic expectations. One of the trends we’ve seen nationwide since the 1990s is a renewed emphasis of offering more engineering courses up-front in the curriculum, including during the freshman year.

In my own experience, I recall a lot of basic math, science, and general education courses my freshman year, without any engineering courses until I was a sophomore. Needless to say, I stuck it out because I was optimistic that the interesting courses would come later. They did, but it sure would have been nice to have a more engaging freshman year.

It’s good that things have changed. Today at Iowa State, we’re proud about the way that our curriculum, advising, and activities outside the classroom, enable students to broaden their engineering knowledge and skills and get excited about the engineering profession. And get their hands dirty, too.

Here are a few examples:

  • Learning communities in the residence halls enable students to live, eat, go to class, and study together, providing a ready-made support network for freshmen, and opportunity to connect with faculty and staff early on.
  • Student clubs like Freshmen Leaders in Engineering (FLIE), Material Advantage (MA), and the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) are open for students to get involved from the moment they arrive on campus. Groups like Team PrISUm, Cyclone Power Pullers, Society of Automotive Engineers and Iowa State Space Society have significant hands-on team design and fabrication projects. Our freshmen get involved and meet upper division students, learning to apply the lessons of the classroom to make things that work.
  • AdvisingCourses and textbooks are providing the pedagogy to bring engineering science and design to the freshman year.  Last fall, teams of students in our introductory aerospace engineering course builtremote controlled lighter than air ships, and had an end-of-semester “flyoff” competition. And my own textbook, An Introduction to Mechanical Engineering, is used for instruction in first-year courses at a number of universities.

We’ve also hired additional professional academic advisors within the engineering college, and they work closely with students to help then choose the engineering major that best fits their skills and interests.

In the end, the goal is the success of students, both academically while they are on campus and professionally throughout their careers. We’ve made good strides, but we can always do more, and I encourage you to share your ideas with instructors, our department chairs, and with me.