This semester I am team teaching an introduction to engineering course for freshmen (EGR102 at UW-Madison). The course is designed to help students choose a major in engineering by exploring engineering grand challenges. In the course, students discover that there are thousands of ways to be an engineer, not just 10 ways to be an engineer (corresponding to the 10 engineering majors). I believe this approach helps to retain students in engineering, particularly women and minority students who may not have enough role models in engineering to help them feel like they belong.
138 students are enrolled this semester. Students have several common lectures in a large lecture hall. Then, we divide the students into sections (“themes”) of 20-24 students so they can explore a topic in more detail. Each theme must cut across all the engineering majors so it has something for everyone. Each student is assigned to 2 of the 6 themes for about 8 classes each:
Theme 1: Engineering Solutions for a Healthy World
Theme 2: Safety and Risk-Analysis of Emerging Technology
Theme 3: Critical Infrastructures and Logistics (mine!)
Theme 4: Megacities and Urban Engineering
Theme 5: Controlling Carbon: Powering our Future Societies
Theme 6: Global Engineering Challenges: Energy and Water
Here is my list of required and recommended reading for my theme on critical infrastructure and logistics.
Media about cities and the engineering challenges that cities provide:
- Infrastructure is to support human life. A city? A 4 minute video on the science of cities from The Atlantic
- Freakonomics podcast: why cities rock
Systems thinking and engineering design
- Life was simple. After that, we had systems
- IKEA lowers its shipping costs through design
- At UPS, the algorithm is the driver: transportation networks, logistics, and human decision-makers. Watch an interview with Jack Levis at UPS on how seamlessly embedding analytics into design helps drivers optimize performance.
- RadioLab on Facebook and social network system research [podcast]
- Operations research and engineering design at Disney
- Is London ready for the Olympics? Passport checkpoints at Heathrow. See the Wall Street Journal article here.
Thinking about next-generation transportation, public transit, and the sustainability of public transit:
- No new roads: a strategy for the future of transport
- How road diets work (including a 2 minute video)
- Why building new roads just makes people drive more
- Why doesn’t the US have a high speed rail system like most other developed countries?
- How to make public mass transit financially sustainable once and for all
- How São Paulo Uses ‘Value Capture’ to Raise Billions for Infrastructure
- How to Pay for America’s Infrastructure: Should infrastructure banks replace our current system of funding roads and transit through grants?
- The problem with self-driving cars are the other drivers
- 99% Invisible podcast episode on self-driving cars and engineering design
- What if your self-driving car chooses to sacrifice you to save others?
- The Onion (satire): Engineers unveil new driverless car capable of committing hit-and-run
Smartgrid, the connected home, and cyber-security
- IEEE Spectrum: How to Blackout-proof a city
- IEEE Spectrum: MP3 interview about Mumbai’s power grid [mp3]
- 6 things you should know about the Internet of Things
- A map of squirrel attacks on the U.S. Power grid
- The U.S. Naval Academy brings back celestial navigation in case of a cyberattack on a GPS
- Ted Koppel on cyber-attacks and power grid security on the Diane Rehm show [podcast]
- The mother of all disasters
- Radiation isn’t the real risk: preventing one type of disaster leads to another
- Japan rethinks tsunami safety
- Why are Japanese homes disposable? A Freakonomics podcast about earthquakes, building codes, engineering, non-technical constraints, and unexpected consequences
- Risk-based flood insurance: my national academies experience and report
- Flood risk and engineering management
- Chicago tried to dig its way out of urban flooding for decades before climate change made it a national crisis
- Type II errors are the ones that get you fired: the Atlanta edition
- Italian scientists are convicted of manslaughter for making a Type II error
- Waiting is torture, but it’s not so bad if there are mirrors or trees
- Freakonomics podcast on unintended consequences: “The Cobra Effect” (but dark!)
Here are the course learning objectives:
By the end of this class, students should be able to…
1) Identify a societal problem that requires an engineering solution and identify non-technical constraints.
2) Design multidisciplinary engineering approaches to societal problems.
3) Appraise and evaluate these engineering approaches.
4) Compare and contrast various engineering solutions.
5) Identify the different engineering disciplines and describe how each can contribute to the solution of grand challenge problems
6) Find, select, and correctly document credible sources for use in a group research project.
7) Summarize and discuss important facts, ideas, and arguments from different sources in well-crafted written assignments.
8) Present research findings on a coherent and defined topic to the class in a clear, organized, and persuasive manner using the appropriate media tools.