Engineering school considers special SAGES courses for incoming engineering students

Eamon Sheehan, Staff Reporter

The eventual class of 2021 might have to look forward to a very different SAGES experience than the current student body has become accustomed to.

The Faculty Senate Committee on Undergraduate Education (FSCUE) endorsed a proposal that recommends an optional engineering specific first-year SAGES course to incoming engineering students. The proposal is headed to the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate.

The bill was originally brought to the table by the Case School of Engineering (CSE). It was passed by the curriculum subcommittee after some modifications suggested by the subcommittee after considering faculty and student input.

Representative Walter Huang of CSE, the student representative on the FSCUE Curriculum Subcommittee, reached out to fellow Undergraduate Student Government representatives to gauge student support for the proposal.

The feedback obtained, in conjunction with other factors, eventually caused the FSCUE Curriculum Subcommittee to recommend that the SAGES be optional for prospective engineers so as to preserve choice. This recommendation assuaged many, as the proposal previously proposed that the Engineering SAGES courses be mandatory for prospective engineers.

In addition, the subcommittee also affirmed inclusion of the so called “Opportunities Hour” in the proposal. The “Opportunities Hour” is an alternative to the Fourth Hour of a typical first-year seminar. In large presentations and smaller group activities, the program would be geared toward engaging first-year students with engineering outcomes and skills, including introducing students to opportunities, careers and extracurricular activities related to engineering.

“Very often students interested in engineering, they really don’t have courses in high school dealing with engineering,” said Marc Buchner, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science who championed the proposal in FSCUE. “So the idea behind that was to really to give them a chance to guarantee if they want to have a course that they could have this early exposure to engineering.”

However, some USG members still feel opposed to certain aspects of the proposal. Rep. Huang explained that “engineering students are already taking many many engineering classes, but asking them to take extra classes… they are afraid that it will just close off engineering from the rest of the campus and isolate them.”

In response to that, Buchner said that it is all about making choices. Buncher explained that the engineering SAGES, if required for all incoming engineering students, would only take up one of the three SAGES courses that students need to take. However, he felt that “the slight loss in choice was more than compensated by the sense of community and exposure to engineering.”

“It is also question that of engineering being isolated in the opposite way,” said Buncher. “That is when you want to expose yourself to engineering and being connected with other people, being connected with other engineers, being connected with engineering faculty.”

The third component of the proposal includes providing every prospective engineering student with an engineering faculty as their advisor. This idea was applauded by USG and passed by FSCUE without change.

“We like the fact that engineering students are getting engineering advisors,” commented Huang. “Because it has always been an issue. We knew that from the engineering caucus from all these years that there is a difficult time for engineering students to learn what classes they need to take in their first-year, because they don’t have an engineering advisor.”

Buchner expressed the same reason for assigning engineering advisors to first-year students, while adding that the connections students form with faculty can be very useful.

“These connections with faculty are very important,” said Buchner. “Just like SAGES advisors are very important. I heard that time and time again, those connections are very important during a very difficult transition time.”

While some students expressed support to the idea of an engineering specific SAGES, there are students who teeter on the edge of declaring an engineering major are just looking for other things their first-year. Such was the case for George Heidbreder, a once-prospective engineer turned physics major.

“As a freshman and prospective engineer I intentionally chose a SAGES that was as far removed from the subject of my other classes as possible,” said Heidbreder. “It could be interesting for non-engineers who took the same approach as me in selecting classes.”

CSE is still waiting upon decision from the executive committee of the Faculty Senate for further motion on this proposal.

Additional reporting by Celia Wan, News Editor.