This paper describes an introductory freshman experience course, “Introduction to Building Systems” that was seven years in the making and meets several critical goals for this engineering department. As one of their very first courses, this two-unit course is taken in the Fall quarter by every incoming freshman, which translates into an annual enrollment of 50 to 120 students, depending on the year. Meeting twice a week, the first meeting is in a large lecture format where all of the students are together and are introduced to the topic for the week which includes structural systems, timber, concrete, steel, earth/foundations, building envelopes, electrical systems, and mechanical systems. The second meeting is a two-hour activity where the students are sub-divided into separate sections of not more than 24 students. During these hands-on activities, students place and test concrete anchor bolts, build and test wooden connections, weld steel plates and test their strength, complete an exercise using funicular shapes, use the digital fabrication lab and 3-D printers to create and test a truss structure, create a video on a past building system failure or disaster, measure slopes and follow the drainage of a specified area, wire an electrical circuit, and tour the electrical/mechanical systems of a major building.

The course is team-taught by a tenured faculty member and the department head. Industry support from Hilti and Simpson StrongTie provides materials and expertise for two of the activities. University support assists with the welding, digital fabrication, and building tour activities. Some of the activities become round-robin stations to further sub-divide the students into 8 or 12 person groups to allow every student to physically participate. The culminating exercise involves the design and construction of a structure using K’nex toys where students experience the design-bid-build project delivery method by role playing the architect, project manager and contractor.

The course provides the opportunity to introduce engineering ethics and professional responsibility to the freshman. The students participate in a learning-style inventory to better understand how they learn, thus introducing the goal of life-long learning. The course deliberately tries to develop the camaraderie of a cohort at the earliest possible stage and allows students to feel that they are part of the department and the major. It also provides motivation and excitement for the profession that lies ahead while the students are working their way through calculus, physics and architecture studios.

A review of the literature addresses how this course aligns with and differs from other existing introductory experience courses. Refinements in the course have been made based on formalized student assessment data. Over time, the effect of the course will be assessed through retention data.


Architectural Engineering

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URL: http://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/aen_fac/119