Students and Core Curriculum

Over the next couple of years, we will feature articles about UofL and Speed School comparing various aspects that we experienced versus what it is today. Curriculum, Facilities, Departments, and Students will be reviewed. This article will focus on incoming students as well as the core curriculum that all incoming students must take. We reached out to Dr. Larry Tyler (Bachelor’s and Master’s in M.E., Master of Arts in math, and Interdisciplinary PhD in engineering and physics), who is in his 55th year of teaching at Speed, and is very involved in the Engineering Fundamentals Department. In addition we reached out to our classmate Dr. Bob Ullrich, who after receiving his PhD from the University of Illinois, taught in the Civil Engineering Department until his retirement a couple of years ago.

First here is some background on the incoming freshman class:

500 freshmen with a 29+ average ACT score and a 3.85 HS GPA. One thing to keep in mind here is that high school teachers are often incented to prepare students on how to take the standardized tests, which was totally different for us. Most of us just showed up and took the ACT or SAT test. Actually, if you remember, we had to take Speed’s placement test to get in to Speed, because we were a private institution at the time we started, for which obviously there was no prep.
23% women, 7% AA, 6% Hispanic
No longer a commuter school, with 25% Jefferson County, 55% from KY (outside Jefferson County), and 20% out of State
70% of all UofL freshmen live on campus, with 220 engineering freshmen living in a learning community
By far the greatest change, not surprising, has been in technology and tools that students are using. We had our slide rules and a computer in the basement of the J.B. Speed Building, which had a whopping 48K of memory. Today every student is required to have a personal computer, not to speak of their phones, which alone easily has more than a million times the capacity of the old computer. Bob Ullrich pegged the death of the slide rule happened around Christmas of 1973. He was teaching at the University of Illinois then. During the Fall of 1973 students were using their slide rules, then after Christmas almost all students were using calculators.

Another change is the focus on retention vs the “sink or swim” environment that we experienced. Here are a few things that have been added to help students or changed in the curriculum:

Currently there are 9 advisors for Speed School and an each advisor is assigned to each student that advises that student throughout their academic period at Speed. Did we have advisors? If we did it sure wasn’t required.
Another development, which is relatively recent, was the creation of the Engineering Fundamentals Department in which more focus is on helping students get a good understanding on basics and what their options are for engineering. As an example, Algebra, was back in our day and, continues to be somewhat lacking for some incoming freshmen. Fifty years ago, possibly not enough time was spent in High School on teaching more than basic Algebra. Today, with emphasis on advanced college credit courses in High School, less effort is given to reinforcing a solid understanding of Advanced Algebra with more emphasis being given to an AP class in Calculus. As a result, any student not achieving a grade of 27 or higher on the math part of the ACT is assigned to a 190 algebra/trig introductory Calculus course for the first semester. The other students taking the calculus-based Engineering Analysis 101 course are tested on algebra/trig concepts during the first 2 1/2 weeks. If they show they are deficient in this area, they are encouraged to transfer to the 190 course for the rest of the semester. Students do not receive credit for this toward an engineering degree but will receive credit for A&S Math 190 should they decide to transfer. Approximately 20% of the incoming freshmen take the 190 course. It has been shown that students need a solid background in algebra to succeed in a rigorous calculus course.
Also as a part of the Engineering Fundamentals program are two new first year courses resulting from a school-wide curriculum revision initiative. Courses in introduction to engineering, engineering graphics and introductory programming were replaced with a two course (two semester hours each) sequence that introduces students to the practice of engineering and provides an introduction to the essential methods, tools, and skills necessary for success in engineering. These are Engineering Methods, Tools, and Practice I and II. The sequence focuses on the skill/knowledge areas of engineering professionalism, computational and programming skills, communication (graphical, written and oral), problem solving, design analysis, teamwork and project management. The first course focuses on skill development and the second course requires demonstration of skill acquisition and integration culminating in completion of a team project in the Engineering Garage.
Another process that has improved GPAs has to do with when you could drop a class. Although we basically had a week or two at most after the quarter started to decide to drop a course or not, often before any tests were given, current students can drop a class about 8 weeks after the semester started, which is often after several tests have been given. This allows students to better manage their GPAs
Fifty years ago we had 2 years of general core classes prior to going into a department. Today students begin taking departmental classes after the first year, which means that some of the repetition and course material is left out.
So what is the result of these changes on retention of students that started Speed? Students who start in Speed today have a graduation rate of 55%, which is higher than the national average.

Bob Ullrich also emphasized that the amount of credits for the Bachelor and Master of Engineering degrees are significantly less than when we were there. When we graduated, although we were on the quarter system, we essentially needed the equivalent of 17o semester hours to graduate plus co-op to receive our Bachelor’s Degree. Today’s students receive their Bachelor of Science degree with 120 semester hours plus co-op and their Master of Engineering with an additional 30 semester hours. This was accomplished by reducing the number of times students were taught basic concepts, like fluid dynamics. Instead of going over many concepts 2 or 3 times in different courses, today’s students are exposed only once for many of these concepts. Bob also mentioned that today’s fifth year courses for the Master of Engineering degree are often both more advanced level courses than we were exposed to, as well as having the option to focus on more specialized courses within the Department, like water resource management in the Civil Department.

One other tidbit that Bob shared was that when we were there, guys had to wear long pants and girls had to wear skirts. He said that this is definitely not the case now – not even close.

As you would expect, things are much different today than it was fifty years ago. The students today have better tools, more support, and more choices than we did. Speed School has changed with the times for the better and is continuing to develop more strong engineers with a career placement of 97% of the graduates into the workforce.