Getting to the CoRe of the Engineering Experience

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June 18, 2012

MSU's first-year engineering program moves into 2012 with a new director and a new namethe Engineering CoRe Experience, integrating the cornerstone (Co) and residential (Re) programs both in name and in focus.

New director S. Patrick Walton, associate professor of chemical engineering and materials science, takes the reins from Neeraj Buch, director of the program since 2009, who has been appointed interim chairperson of the college's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Neeraj and the rest of the CoRe team have done an excellent job forming a strong, functioning program from an idea. Now, we have the chance to take a look at what we have been doing and make it even better, Walton says. Moving forward, we are emphasizing the integration of what used to be considered the two parts of the freshman program-the cornerstone engineering courses and the residential program-into the CoRe Experience. The integration of the residential programming with the team-based, hands-on, first-year training coursework is what makes MSU's program unique.

Currently living in Wilson Hall, home to the residential program, are 467 first-year students, as well as 97 second-year students who have returned to Wilson based on the positive experience during their first year.

My job is to connect our students with resources in an effort to have a positive impact on the future, says Carmellia Davis-King, co-curricular director for the CoRe Experience. I work with our engineering faculty and sponsors to help our engineering students connect early with their engineering majors, careers, profession, and the engineering Grand Challenges.

The CoRe Experience also includes the direct involvement of corporate partners in both the courses and the residential program. Our corporate partners are a big part of making sure our students get connected to real-world engineering problems from the day they step onto campus, Walton says. This is especially true for the theme floors in the residential program, where the partners, Consumers Energy and GE, have displays describing challenges in two important areas-energy and transportation, respectively.

We want to get even more involved in corporate outreach and service learning based projects, says Walton. Last semester, 80 CoRe students worked with MSU's Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities to develop working prototypes for their clients.

Our first-year students had a great opportunity to impact the daily lives of people not only in the local community, but also around the world, says Timothy Hinds, academic director for the CoRe Experience. One of the student teams developed a device to help a blind four-year-old child with cerebral palsy operate his iPod Shuffle. Another team developed anatomy teaching models for blind grade school students in India.

These types of projects drive student engagement, says Walton. If students feel like their work actually matters, that will motivate them to do well on the project and in their future studies.

Other projects for CoRe students include programming a robot to navigate a course and accomplish tasks, and designing a thermal insulation system. The CoRe curriculum is designed to teach engineering design, project management, and computational problem solving, concepts that are useful across the engineering disciplines but that are not beyond the level of expertise of these early engineering students.

The CoRe Experience is our opportunity to begin the process of turning students with raw ability into Spartan Engineers who will change the world, says Walton. The integrated program must convey our high expectations for the students and scaffold them to reach the goals we have set. We must engage their passion, creativity, and intrinsic motivation by demonstrating our own. The program should be the foundation for their long-term success as undergraduates, and in their lifelong pursuits.