Beginning this fall, high-achieving undergraduate students in the University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering will be able to enroll in a new program combining team-building activities with more intensive classroom lessons.
Designed to promote innovative thinking, the Honors Engineering Program (HEP) will give these academically gifted freshman and transfer students a larger selection of more comprehensive versions of existing engineering courses in smaller classroom settings taught by leading Cullen College faculty.
“Developing an honors program was a way to help us recruit more top students that are looking for challenging and rewarding honors opportunities in engineering,” said Dave Shattuck, director of the HEP and the college’s associate dean for undergraduate programs. “This is in addition to building a sense of community where students form lasting relationships with others in their major.”
HEP was developed in partnership with the university’s longstanding Honors College. It will create more honors-level engineering courses, which in the past have been scarce for Cullen College students, though they make up 15 percent of The Honors College enrollment, said Jodie Koszegi, assistant dean of The Honors College.
“Having honors engineering courses, especially in the upper levels, was something we struggled with,” said Koszegi. “We are really excited about the opportunity HEP creates for these students.”
Currently, six courses are on track to be included in HEP curriculum. In general, the courses are designed to be more challenging, but how that is achieved varies depending on the instructor.
Shattuck’s circuit analysis and electronics class, for example, will condense the material from two regularly required courses into one—meaning students cover more content faster. For Diana De La Rosa-Pohl it’s meant adding more projects and team building exercises.
A lecturer in the department of electrical and computer engineering, De La Rosa-Pohl developed the two freshman-level courses that will be offered in the coming academic year. She actually taught both, last spring and fall, to more than 30 engineering students enrolled in The Honors College who volunteered to serve as a test group for HEP.
Her courses take students from lecture hall to a laboratory. Here, they are challenged to learn engineering concepts that are later tested through hands-on activities that include everything from building an infrared detector to programming and constructing a robot.
Catherine Finley, now a rising sophomore in mechanical engineering, was among the students to participate in the two pilot classes. The experience, Finley said, was well worth being a guinea pig.
“I loved everything we did,” said an enthusiast Finley. “These were the classes I looked forward to everyday. I was showed so much about engineering and challenged to do things I never thought I could do. It really reinforced, for me, how awesome engineering is.”
Finley’s sentiments are what administrators are hopeful they can recreate with the other classes currently set to be in the curriculum and additional courses they plan to offer later.
The goal is to have enough courses that students can take an honors class each semester on their way to a degree. Honors versions of dynamics, statistics, fluid mechanics and senior design are all being explored for the future, Shattuck said.
But HEP is much bigger than just more rigorous courses. It is designed to offer a variety of special opportunities outside the classroom, too. Field trips to sporting events and museums, mixers with industrial partners and mentoring opportunities are all designed to help create a sense of community among HEP students.
“We want this program to help build these students’ confidence,” said Shattuck, “and give them a sense of identity while they are here on campus.”
To be accepted, incoming freshman and transfer students must meet the stringent admission requirements not only for their chosen major in the Cullen College, but The Honors College. This includes, but is not limited to, consideration of grade point average, SAT and ACT scores as well as a writing sample.