Recent reports from the White House and the National Academy of Engineering describe the need for the nation to increase student retention in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Uninspiring introductory courses, poor teaching, and lack of effective dissemination of best-practices are major obstacles that stand in the way of achieving these goals. With the aim of overcoming these obstacles, faculty members from Princeton University, Virginia Tech and the University of Massachusetts Amherst have partnered to disseminate an introductory civil engineering course suitable for both STEM and non-STEM majors, and enhance these course materials with research-based teaching methods such as active learning exercises.
These courses emphasize the creativity of the engineer along with the technical content. They demonstrate that engineering design involves "discipline and play", a term popularized by Professor David Billington, where discipline refers to technical skills, and play refers to creative and aesthetic exploration. The materials developed for these courses support instruction through the creative art of structural and civil engineering (CASCE).
Structural Art can be approached from a various avenues that will appeal to fields of study other than engineering. Structural art can be interpreted on scientific, social, and symbolic grounds.
- Scientific: How is the structure designed to safely transmit loads to the ground and what materials are used?
- Social: What are the short and long-term costs of the structure to society? What role does the structure play in the functioning of society?
- Symbolic: What feelings does the structure inspire? What meaning does the structure carry for people interacting with it?
The outcomes of the project hold potential to advance knowledge regarding the effect that perceptions of engineers as "technicians" (as opposed to creative artists) has on STEM attrition and attraction; challenges and successes in teaching introductory engineering courses in institutions of different cultures and curricula; and strategies for supporting the successful adoption of an innovative course across diverse institutions.