article Spring 2024

InterEGR 170: Behind the Scenes

Madison’s unique introductory course: How it came to be, how it will change

In a world of evolving technology and shifting priorities, engineers must be adaptable. However, the same should also apply to engineering education. While UW-Madison teaches its students to adjust and overcome the challenges they face, the curriculum itself is similarly changing. 

The College of Engineering instills these sought-after soft skills through engineering introduction courses. Biomedical, civil, environmental, geological, and undecided engineering first-year students enroll in InterEGR 170: Design Practicum for their introductory course. 

Throughout the semester, students work in teams and develop a product for a real-life client, learning teamwork, communication, and design skills along the way. Unbeknownst to these students, InterEGR 170 is the successor to a much broader class with far more students, InterEGR 160. Prior to 2016, almost all engineering first-years took InterEGR 160 as their first step into product development.

However, due to budget constraints and direct admission changes, the College of Engineering turned introductory courses over individual departments in 2016. Each department could choose to keep their students in what would become InterEGR 170 or instead develop their own introductory class. 

Professor Tracy Puccinelli sits down with WEM to talk about her time with INTEREGR 170

InterEGR 170’s creator and coordinator Professor Tracy Jane Puccinelli shares some insight into this change. “One benefit of [dedicated classes] is students get to meet faculty in their department right away – and I think departments want to take in all their first years and hold on to them… but the disadvantage is that we lost this multidisciplinary, hands-on first year course,” she explains. 

The students aren’t the only ones that must adapt – the professors and lab instructors for 170 constantly implement changes to make the course more effective and inclusive. 

Under Puccinelli’s direction, second year master’s students and InterEGR 170 instructors Megan Bowers and Cade Van Horn conduct assessments of the class and each lead a lab section. Using surveys and the online peer-evaluation system Feedback Fruits, they apply their engineering mindsets to educational assessments.

“I am focusing on student’s feelings of inclusion and belonging and if that affects [a] student’s decision to remain in engineering,” explains Bowers. 

The data collected is preliminary, but she optimistically states that “inclusion in every subset and group – major, gender, ethnicity – is close to the average.” Having taken the chemical engineering introduction course, she says 170 uniquely “show[s] you that you want to be an engineer [through] making something.”

Van Horn uses the same data set as Bowers but focuses “on individual aspects and behaviors, such as time management, and how they impact overall team satisfaction and success.” His research using Feedback Fruits revealed trends of student confidence: “Most students [note that] they were harder when ranking themselves than their teammates,” he remarks.

While their research is ongoing, it has already led to changes in the class. Instructors added new peer-evaluation categories and discussions to prevent feelings of marginalization in international students. They continue to adapt the class to best prepare its students for a lifetime of engineering.  

“[First-years] need that opportunity to interact with students from other disciplines and hear about them… and we’ve found that students are more invested if they are actually helping a real person,”

Professor Tracy Jane Puccinelli

Past projects include mobility aids, rehabilitation devices, and proposals from local schools. Lately, however, finding enough projects has proven to be challenging. The instructors have sourced projects from family, friends, and coworkers – even the Makerspace has stepped up as a client, resulting in a variety of innovative creations.

As the class continues to improve, the students will too. In just one semester, each project brings students one step closer to becoming the next generation of adaptable, passionate Badger Engineers. 

If you have a project proposal that you are interested in submitting for InterEGR 170, you can find out more about the class and submission process at the link below. If you have any questions, please contact Professor Puccinelli at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *