I’ve been thinking that the School of Engineering ought to have a required freshman seminar, like the required 200 course for grad students, that teaches the basics of how to be a college student. One thing I would require in such a course (as I have required in 200 for several years) is that students learn to use use . I’ve long thought it an essential skill for math and computer science majors, but the more I see bioengineers and electrical engineers producing crappy documents in Word, the more I realize that all engineers would benefit from having a document system that can handle math and properly referenced figures.
One thing that prompted this observation was the post on Engineer Blogs, She’s got the look, in which a young engineer (a mechanical engineer, I believe) found out the hard way that is much better for theses than Word. Several other young engineers have commented on that blog, most agreeing that Word is totally unsuited for theses and other documents that need to be formatted properly and edited through many revisions. A few have had trouble with the document-compiler nature of and recommended front-ends like LyX.
There is a startup cost to learning , so the sooner we start students on it, the more that cost gets amortized. We can’t count on high schools teaching it (though the Art of Problem Solving online classes require it for their middle-school and high-school students—they even have a gentle tutorial for youngsters). It seems like a freshman seminar (required also for new transfer students) would be the best place to put such instruction.
What else should be included in a how-to-be-an-engineering-student course? A little Python with NumPy? Some soldering? UNIX command line utility programs? Definitely some search skills from the librarians!