The freshman curriculum is outstanding
I didn’t appreciate how well the freshman engineering curriculum is structured until I went home for the summer after freshman year. It's designed so that every student knows by the end of their freshman year if they love engineering and are sure about the major they chose.
The beauty of the curriculum comes from the real engineering work you are doing from day one—most engineers will take Introduction to Engineering Analysis in their first year. For those who don’t know, this class focuses on static systems and balancing forces with a small focus on linear algebra concepts. Within the first few weeks of school, I was already analyzing and finding forces in a system. Two months in, I was evaluating trusses and answering whether a crane would tip over or not.
Yes, these problems were simple, but it was still engineering. I love IEA because it helps answer the dreaded question: “Is this the right major for me?” For me, IEA reaffirmed my belief that I do want to be a mechanical engineer. On the other hand, my friends that hated the class made their decision to change their major towards the electrical and computer sides of engineering.
Requiring a computer aided design class and scheduling it in the first two semesters is also extremely useful. The ability to use a CAD software proficiently is marketable and could help freshman land summer internships making models. I was extremely lucky to be hired as a summer intern at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory making CAD models purely because of this class at RPI. While Siemens NX—the software that most majors are taught—has a huge learning curve and makes the one-credit class sometimes feel like a four-credit class, the payoff is that almost all other CAD programs will seem easy.
Talking to my friends from back home exposed me to the reality of other schools. They were planning to take their first engineering class next semester while I was already through two semesters of them. They were planning on learning CAD through their engineering clubs, and I already took an actual course. They were worried about statics, and I had already taken it.
The freshman engineering curriculum might not be an easy transition into college, but it is a great transition into an engineering major. It prioritizes developing essential skills early, and is part of what makes the academics at RPI special.