Project-based first-year engineering course series is put to test under COVID restrictions, comes out victorious

One of the biggest questions during the COVID pandemic has been how educational institutions should continue to provide classes within the requirements for health and safety. Colleges such as Louisiana Tech University have faced the challenge of operating while also following CDC guidelines, an especially difficult task for a school dominated by majors that require hands-on experience such as engineering.

Students work together on engineering projects in the Integrated Engineering and Science Building.The freshman engineering majors attending Tech for the 2020-21 school year have had the difficult experience of being the first to take the project-based Living with the Lab course series after changes in the class structure and curriculum.

According to Dr. Krystal Corbett, a lecturer in Mechanical Engineering and freshman engineering programs coordinator, “our kind of core value with Living with the Lab program is kind of found in that name, of living with the lab.” Corbett said the series maintains “project-based learning” and provides a “hands-on immersive experience.”

The question is how the College of Engineering and Science has accomplished this under the numerous restrictions due to COVID. Corbett said the faculty worked hard to adapt the course series in order to make classes a safe and comfortable experience for everyone involved.

“We tried to adjust it to where we were accomplishing all the guidelines and restrictions that COVID had but still gave students that access: access to labs, access to upperclassmen to help them with their projects and questions,” Corbett said.

Corbett credited the new Integrated Engineering and Science Building for the ability to make all necessary changes. The building provides 130,000 square feet of space for classes, labs and more.

“This new building has made it possible. We have space where we can actually do it in person,” Corbett said.

With the curriculum reworked and classes held in nontraditional ways, freshman students have faced many challenges. Jinny Schober, a freshman Civil Engineering major, said she struggled the most during the fall quarter.

“The first quarter was the hardest because that we had the most COVID restrictions. We had to do like half of the class in person and half online, and it was just kind of a hard time,” Schober said. “Obviously it kinda stinks because, especially the first quarter, we didn’t get to do all the normal activities.”

Students in Living with the Lab still reap benefits from the reworked curriculum, though. Abby Daigle, a freshman Industrial Engineering major and active member of multiple organizations on campus such as Freshman Council for ESA, said that the layout of the course series still works in achieving the mission of experiential learning.

“I think that whenever they’re trying to revamp the whole curriculum – I think they’re really doing a great job with that,” Daigle said. “Just the way that they have it laid out to where it’s kind of building on top and not like freshman year was a waste. You’re gonna use what you learned this year, you’re gonna use it next year, and the next year, and just build on top of that.”

As COVID restrictions begin to decrease and the spring quarter continues, the engineering faculty and first-year students look forward to the final project of the Living with the Lab courses: a group design project of a smart product. All of the designs will be showcased and judged at the in-person Freshman Design Expo held at the end of the Spring Quarter.

“There’s a buzz in the classroom, and they’re all thinking about creative ideas and pushing each other because I think they’re excited to kind of get that college feel that they’ve been looking forward to, and I think we’ve been able to accomplish it,” Corbett said.

Despite the challenges of the past year, the freshman engineers taking the Living with the Lab series have persevered and continue to benefit from the hands-on experience they’ve gained in their courses.

“I am impressed with the creativity of all the students and their ability to rise above all the adversity,” Corbett said. “I’m just proud of them all, and I know that these students are gonna accomplish great things even beyond this first year.”

This story written by Communication student Alexis Newman.