Engineering institutions nationwide are pursuing first-year engineering design courses to attract and retain nontraditional students. However, these courses often have high enrollment rates and can be resource intensive. Virtual design projects offer a potential solution to the physical resources requirements but often result in an overly constrained design space, creating uninteresting or non-challenging design problems. We are developing a design problem within a novel virtual environment (i.e., a game) that provides first-year engineering undergraduates with a more authentic engineering design experience and a more complete and accurate understanding of the engineering profession. The design problem presented challenges students to incorporate carbon nanotubes and chemical surfactants into a hemodialysis ultrafiltration unit. Our approach seeks to provide students with experience in the skills, knowledge, values, identity, and epistemology of the engineering profession, which is the epistemic frame of the profession. The virtual environment also provides a uniquely comprehensive platform for assessing the students’ epistemic frame development over time. We anticipate that this approach will be highly engaging to first-year undergraduate engineering students and will help engineering instructors understand how engineers-in-training learn to become engineers.

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