About The Book

Concept map for Thinking Like An Engineer: (click the image to enlarge)

Engineering Essentials

At first glance, it may appear that the four chapters in Engineering Essentials were just dumped there because they did not really fit anywhere else. There are two threads that bind them together, however. The first is expressed in the section title: all are essential for a successful career in engineering. The other is communications, as will be discussed below.

First, as an aspiring engineer, it is important that students attempt to verify that engineering is not only a career that suits their abilities, but also one in which they will find personal reward and satisfaction.

Second, practicing engineers often make decisions that will affect not only the lives of people but also the viability of the planetary ecosystem that affects all life on Earth. Without a firm grounding in making decisions based on ethical principles, there is an increased probability that undesirable or even disastrous consequences may occur.

Third, most engineering projects are too large for one individual to accomplish alone, thus practicing engineers must learn to function effectively as a team, putting aside their personal differences and combining their unique talents, perspectives, and ideas to achieve the goal.

Finally, binding everything together is communications. Communication, whether written, graphical, or spoken, is essential to success in engineering.

Problem Paradigms

This section starts with estimation—it’s always best to have a good guess at any problem before trying to solve it more precisely. SOLVEM provides a framework for solving problems that encourages creative observation as well as methodological rigor. Graphing Guidelines is included because graphs are needed both to understand a system and to communicate it to others. A chapter on interpolation supports the interpretation of graphs and tabular data. Univariate statistics and statistical process control wraps up this part of the book by providing a way for engineering students to describe both distributions and trends.

Ubiquitous Units

The world can be described using relatively few dimensions – we need to know what these are, and how to use them in analyzing engineering situations.  Dimensions, however, are worthless in allowing engineers to find the numerical solution to a problem.  Understanding units is essential to determining the correct numerical answers to problems. Different disciplines use different units to describe phenomena (particularly with respect to the properties of materials such as viscosity, thermal conductivity, density, etc.).  Engineers must know how to convert from one unit system to another.  Knowledge of dimensions allows engineers to improve their problem solving abilities by revealing the interplay of various parameters.

Scrupulous Spreadsheets

When choosing an analysis tool to teach students, our first pick is Excel.  While not the fanciest or most powerful or even the best analytically, it is one we can be fairly certain that no matter what company, no matter where in the world, students will have access to Excel.  Students enter college with various levels of experience with Excel.  To allow students who are novice users to learn the basics without hindering more advanced users, we have placed the basics of Excel in the Appendix material available online.  To help students determine if they need to review the appendix material, an activity has been included in the introduction to Chapter 13 (worksheets), Chapter 14 (graphing) and Chapter 15 (trendlines) to direct students to Appendix B, C and D respectively. Chapter 15 introduces students to the idea of similarity between the disciplines, and how understanding a theory in one application can often aid in understanding a similar theory in a different application.  We also emphasize the understanding of models (trendlines) as possessing physical meaning.  Chapter 16 discusses a process for determining a mathematical model when presented with experimental data, and some advanced material on dealing with limitations of Excel.

Punctilious Programming

This section covers a variety of topics common to any introductory programming textbook. In contrast to a traditional programming textbook, this section approaches each topic from the perspective of how they can be used in unison as a powerful engineering problem solving tool. The topics presented in Part 5 are introduced as if the student has no prior programming ability and are continually reiterated throughout the remaining chapters.  For this textbook, we chose MATLAB as the programming language because it is commonly used in many engineering curricula. The topics covered provide a solid foundation of how computers can be used as a tool for problem solving and provide enough scaffolding for transfer of programming knowledge into other languages commonly used by engineers (C/C++/Java.)