(375h) Integrating VBA-Excel into the Curriculum across Seven Junior-Year Courses

Authors: 
West, K. N., University of South Alabama
West, C. W., University of South Alabama
Rabideau, B. D., University of South Alabama
In many chemical engineering curricula, the junior year is where students first encounter engineering problems that require iterative or numerical solutions, or problems that, although solvable by hand, are much more tractable using computational tools. In years past, departments required formal programming courses in FORTRAN, C++ or other languages to enable students to formulate solutions to complex problems. Programming has become less common in the chemical engineering curriculum as departments now rely on high-level tools such as MATLAB and MathCad.

However, the increasing cost of these high-level tools and insistence from industrial stakeholders that they will not be readily available to graduates has led some departments to adopt Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) in Excel as the preferred programming tool. Microsoft Excel is ubiquitous in industry, and VBA is a common tool for many potential employers; additionally, students are already familiar with Excel from first year engineering courses. VBA-Excel offers both the versatility of a programming language and the ease of a spreadsheet.

Rather than create a full 3-credit hour programming course, we introduced VBA across the curriculum in the junior year spanning seven courses. Student are not only taught the fundamentals of VBA, but also develop tools to solve complex problems in a variety of topics from thermodynamics to reactor design using the language. In this work we will demonstrate how VBA is introduced in a fall semester computational lab course and employed in three fundamental core courses contemporaneously and in three additional courses the following spring.

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