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Undergraduate Civil Engineering Program to be Revised, Unified

By Krista L. Niece
Associate News Editor

The undergraduate program in Civil Engineering(Course I-C) will be structurally changed in the coming years.

Earlier this week, the Committee onCurricula formally approved the changes, which have been in the works since 1990, said Professor of Civil and Environmental EngineeringHerbert H. Einstein. In the fall of 1996 three initial redesign proposals were made and additional new ideas were developed through the semester.

The Department's Undergraduate Committee outlined the new program in early 1997, and detailed development began last September.

The purpose of the revisions is to make the program more cohesive, Einstein said. The changes are also aimed toward developing skills critical to today's civil engineering: facility withopen-ended problems, teamwork, and communication.

Toward these goals, a sequence of design projects known as "Theme Subject" series will be added to the curriculum. This sequence, which will focus on a single civil engineering accomplishment, will allow students to "revisit the same [project] several times" in gradually increasing depth.

New classes look at big problems

The new basic classes in Course I-C will approach the subject of "broad-scale" systems like the rebuilding and burial of Boston's Central Artery, said Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Joseph M. Sussman '68, who is the undergraduate committee member on the engineering systems design group. These large-scale problems are "fundamental to the analysis of design questions," They "also encourage the development of open-ended problem solving skills," he added.

A major goal of the Course 1 revisions is to make the program more coherent. The new classes will be engineered so that they relate more to the prerequisite classes as well as those which will be taken afterward.

The students must be able to see how the subject matter fits in with what they will learn as well as what they have already been taught, said Einstein. "When I use something in a class relevance has to be on both sides,"he said.

Integrated laboratories and lectures will also be a feature of the new program.

Students will also compile a portfolio of their designs. "How can you prove [to a graduate school or employer] what you've done?" said Einstein. "Right now you've got your transcript." The portfolio will hopefully add another dimension to graduates' profiles, he said. Those majoring in certain other departments like Mechanical Engineering(Course II)already compile portfolios of their designs.

Implementation to take years

The new curriculum will not be fully implemented until 2001. Those students already in the program will complete the old curriculum.

In addition, many of the classes to be added have not yet been developed. The intention, according to Einstein's presentation, is to have one major subject developed or revised every six months and to develop three major subjects concurrently. In all, 12 new subjects will be redesigned for the new curricula between 1997 and 1999.

Task groups, consisting of four or five faculty and a full-time research assistant or teaching assistant, will be responsible for the development of each new subject. The faculty involved will also teach the subject being developed or courses on related topics.

Students seem enthusiastic about the changes. "Students feel pretty good about it," said Sussman. The integration of program components into a more cohesive whole is especially welcome.

Diversified tracks, which will allow students to explore subject areas previously not in the curriculum, are also anticipated. Currently, tracks in InformationSystems, Mechanics, andEnvironmental Planning are envisioned, said Erica S. Moreno '99, a Course I-C major, who added that a Construction track may also be added.

Some students seemed to have some reservations with the new program. "For the students that will be immersed in the new program they will have a slew of required classes," Moreno said. "It leaves little room to take a bunch of other classes, or maybe even a minor."

While faculty members find the new program promising, the success of the integration "will be in the testing,"Sussman said.