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Mathcad White Paper: Engineering Students Prepare for the Future at Sinclair Community College

    Engineering Technology Applications course uses Mathcad

    “What I like about Mathcad is that it’s easy to learn and use, it’s visual, it’s inexpensive, and it’s good for problem solving.”

    For a long time, Russ Marcks thought he had to teach his two- and four-year engineering students programming.

    “The Engineering Technology Applications course was chugging along, using FORTRAN,” Professor Marcks recalls. “People complained and wanted C++, but I was reluctant.”

    So Professor Marcks cancelled the course temporarily and, in the meantime, developed a new course using Mathcad 6. He hasn’t looked back since. In this problem-solving course for engineering technologists, Mathcad is an ideal tool.

    Professor Marcks is a long-time Mathcad devotee, using the program since version 3. In the Mathcad methods course he teaches at Sinclair Community College, both terminal students in the Mechanical Engineering Technology (MET) program (one of the first such programs to be accredited by ABET) and other engineering students working on the first two years of a four-year degree gain valuable insight into technology-enabled engineering methods. Since the course focuses on problem solving and must stay current with how engineers in the workplace employ technology, it was important to choose software that met a variety of needs. Professor Marcks explains what makes Mathcad so great for the tasks he and his students are performing:

    “The problem with spreadsheets is that they are business oriented and you can’t see the way the mathematics is written within a cell. Programming is a real challenge for the two-year students. Also, one of the things we teach throughout is documentation of your work, even if it’s just stating the source of a constant or property, and a lot of my students are actually doing it! Mathcad is great for presentations and works well with Word. It also interacts with spreadsheets that already exist; you can read and write ASCII data through data acquisition.”

    At Sinclair, they wanted to do something different to prepare students to face the challenges of the engineering workplace or further education, and Mathcad was a part of that difference. Professor Marcks looked at other applications, but ultimately decided on Mathcad.

    “What I like about Mathcad is that it’s easy to learn and use, and it’s visual – I don’t like the command line approach, particularly for two-year students. It’s also inexpensive, and it’s good for problem solving, particularly because you get to interact with other applications within Mathcad.”

    The feedback from students about this approach has been very positive, according to Professor Marcks. “Most of them come in saying ‘why am I using this’ and leave the course buying it and thanking me,” he says. However, that feeling of accomplishment and success comes from hard work. Professor Marcks warns his students not to expect Mathcad to compensate for poor mathematical skills. He says “Mathcad tends to help them improve their math skills in order to use the program properly.”

    As a professional engineer (non-practicing) specializing in heating and cooling, a member of several professional organizations, including ASEE, and president of the Dayton Chapter of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), Professor Marcks sees the value of Mathcad beyond the classroom, too. He’s looking forward to demonstrating his psychrometrics application to other members of ASHRAE using the Mathcad Application Server.