If you spend enough time on the engineering quad, you’ll eventually hear some variation of this: “I was going to do [insert some engineering major], but then I took the ENGRI for it and it was awful.” The Introduction to Engineering classes, or ENGRIs (pronounced by sounding out each letter), that all engineering freshmen are required to take to explore a major are good for one thing: elimination. They come from a well-meaning place from the engineering administrators, who are aware that the rigid scheduling locks us securely into our majors before we can get a good sense of what they’ll be like. They attempt to let us explore majors we’re considering more before we fully commit to the years-long process of knocking out our flowcharts of requirements one by one.
But the fact that we’re only supposed to take one of these classes can lead to some unfortunate consequences. It means that those fairly certain about their major, and those who like or feel neutral enough about their ENGRI, often end up choosing it because they’ve never known anything about the other majors. By junior and senior year, equipped with a deeper knowledge of the other majors they’ve picked up from friends, research and projects, they’re left to wonder what could have happened if they had taken another path that they had never had the freedom to explore before it was too late. Those who found their ENGRI to be not for them are left to scramble to figure out what other majors they might want to affiliate with as the timer runs out to decide, and without easily accessible resources to choose. Even worse, the lack of exposure to the other engineering majors offered by the college leaves most of our engineering to graduate with a narrow scope of knowledge of the vast engineering tools that can be used to solve the problems we’ll be tasked with in our futures. We graduate our seniors with an inability to understand even the most basic fundamentals of the multidisciplinary aspects of projects. For example, as an ECE major, I couldn’t tell you the first thing about Civil or Operations Research and Information Engineering.
Instead, we should have short, rotating seminars taught by either professors or upperclassmen students in a similar way peer advising classes are taught that run for roughly a week per major. They could include a lecture section for the first few classes, and culminate in a hands-on activity relevant to material they’ve learned, like a small Arduino project for ECE or a demonstration using superconducting materials for Materials Science and Engineering. This would allow students to explore each major in the college in a productive way that allows them to consider each major without their previous biases about it. It would also serve the purpose of giving students who might feel intimidated by the prospect of a notoriously difficult major like Chemical Engineering a sense of confidence that they could succeed in it. It would help to diversify the majors, as students can explore areas they might not have considered otherwise because they don’t feel as though they aren’t for them or it won’t interest them. Take for example the fact that few female engineers even consider the Engineering Physics major, leading it to have the worst gender ratio in the college.
Logistically, about half of the engineering freshmen could enroll per semester, and be randomly placed in a group that they will rotate through major seminars with, attending three 50-minute lecture sections a week. The 12 engineering majors and 15 weeks per semester leaves three extra weeks at the end of the semester, where students could elect to attend a more involved three-week section at the end for a major of their choosing with a more involved project, allowing more time to explore their top choice and ensure it’s right for them before they devote years to it. To address the fact that the ENGRI classes often offer a much-needed GPA boost to the grueling freshman year of engineering, the seminar could be graded easily on a small assignment each week.
The College of Engineering has a responsibility to its students to periodically analyze its academic programs to determine what works well, and what could use improvement. The least it can do for its eager freshman students is offer them the best resources and opportunities to find their true passion in its vast and diverse college, as independent as possible from the preconceptions and biases that continue to plague it.
Michaela Bettez is a junior in the College of Engineering. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Bet on It runs every other Friday this semester.