Executive Summary

Penn Engineering has made significant positive strides in streamlining and improving the engineering freshmen experience. However, there remains significant opportunities to improve the freshman experience, especially as there still exists a gap academically for students who are undecided as they struggle to find the major that is right for them. EAS 101 is the best vehicle for integrating students into engineering and setting them up for success at Penn. Specifically, the course offerings for freshmen, undecided major advising, and Penn Engineering community building represent valuable growth opportunities, and EDAB urges the administration to consider them seriously with students in mind.

Freshman seminars

In the College, freshmen are encouraged to participate in Freshman seminars. “The primary goal of the freshman seminar program is to provide every freshman with the opportunity for a direct personal encounter with a faculty member in a small class setting devoted to a significant intellectual endeavor.” For most Penn Engineering Freshman, writing seminar is their only small class. Students are encouraged to “get to know” their professors, but are simultaneously enrolled in 200-person lectures that are intimidating and severely impersonal. There is also little space and flexibility in their first year curricula to take other freshman seminars. For example, BE freshmen take 5.5 CU both semesters of their freshman year, but only 2 of those CU are for electives, of which 1 is generally used for writing seminar. Additionally, most seminar style courses in engineering including popular energy and entrepreneurship courses are explicitly directed towards Juniors and Seniors. This disconnect is a disservice to Freshmen. They would benefit tremendously from the personal attention of a faculty member and can form bonds with other students. We recommend offering half credit, half-semester seminars to freshman in a few different topics.

We recommend the topics be driven by faculty or post-doc interest. Freshman seminars would represent an early opportunity to explore advanced topics with an emphasis on learning for its own sake.

New Student Orientation (NSO)—beyond the Summer

NSO is predominantly focused on the pre-semester orientation program. The focus is typically on housing, dining, health, mental health, safety, clubs, fraternities etc. In this frenetic period there is little time for students to orient themselves in engineering. We believe there are opportunities during the first few weeks of freshman year to engage students in engineering. The beginning of freshman year is a particularly sensitive time and creating a positive atmosphere in this time would have a long-term influence on them.

We recommend three separate goals: provide students opportunities to interact with faculty members, facilitate bonding within the freshman class, and provide opportunities for freshman to engage with engineering clubs. To that end, we recommend regularly hosting informal freshman focused events in public spaces in engineering. The office of New Student Orientation and Academic Initiatives offers funding and support for hosting “First Year Friday” and other freshman focused events, but it is incumbent on us to take advantage of these opportunities.

We recommend that these events be hosted in the new Levine lobby space, e-Café, or even in Freshman dorm buildings. Furthermore, we believe it is necessary for an engineering administrator to coordinate this program. Most of the events could be planned during the Summer, minimizing the rush during the beginning of the semester. Student organizations and engineering departments could assist by hosting some events. In the beginning of the year, clubs are focused on recruiting freshmen, and co-opting their efforts to host these events would benefit everyone involved.