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ASEE Connections
February 2014 Subscribe
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I. Databytes


Small engineering disciplines have seen large growth over the past five years. For example, undergraduate degrees awarded in mining engineering have increased by 49 percent from 2007 to 2012. Additionally, faculty headcounts in mining engineering programs have increased by almost 10 percent during the same time. Undergraduate degrees awarded were at their highest most recently in 2012 and is expected to continue to increase in the coming years.




II. Congressional Hotline


Rep. Henry Waxman, D–Calif., the liberal architect of legislation to produce cleaner air and safer food, combat climate change, treat H.I.V. and AIDS, and help low-income children, is ending a four-decade, 20-term House career. Democrats who might claim his progressive mantle, CQ reports, include Reps. Lois Capps of California, Frank Pallone of New Jersey, Bobby Rush of Illinois, and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.


Richard Templeton, CEO of Texas Instruments, Shirley Ann Jackson, president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and National Academy of Engineering President Charles Vest spoke as one before the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.


Sen. Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who chairs the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions panel, says he's confident his committee can pass a Higher Education Act reauthorization, but isn't sure the bill would make it to the floor, CQ reports. Because it's an election year, Congress has a truncated schedule to allow time for fall campaigning.


Richard Templeton, CEO of Texas Instruments, Shirley Ann Jackson, president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and National Academy of Engineering President Charles Vest spoke as one before the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.


Universities and state agencies would be able to cultivate industrial hemp for research purposes -- in states that already permit it -- without fear of a federal crackdown, according to the recently-passed, Obama-signed farm bill. Gannett reports that it's legal in nine states: Colorado, Oregon, California, Kentucky, Vermont, Montana, West Virginia, North Dakota and Maine. "The plant is used to make rope, soaps, clothes, auto parts and numerous other products that are common throughout the U.S." Until now, producers have imported the plant from Canada, Turkey and elsewhere. Northern Colorado is poised to become the nation's leader in the endeavor.




Pipeline to Practice

Undergraduate research experiences foster skills, confidence, and the desire to pursue engineering careers.

By Alice Daniel

Tyrone Porter was a freshman in electrical engineering at Prairie View A&M, a historically black university near Houston, when he became curious about biomedical engineering. His school didn't offer a degree, and few faculty members were conducting research in that discipline. So he applied for a summer research program at Duke University. He was accepted, and his world opened up.

"I was immediately hooked and knew exactly what I wanted to do for a career, " says Porter, who graduated with honors in 1996 and now is a bioengineering educator and researcher in the field of ultrasound-enhanced imaging and drug transport.

Porter's response is not atypical, says Martha Absher, associate dean for education and outreach programs at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering. As director of the college's National Science Foundation-funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program, she gets to know undergraduates from all over the country who come to work on research projects each summer. These experiences "can be life changing for a young person, " Absher says, because they provide opportunities to work with professionals and solve real-world problems. Such challenges, she adds, often spark "the confidence and drive to go on into higher engineering education and research."

Graduates' experiences support that claim. A survey of University of Delaware engineering alumni published in the April 2002 Journal of Engineering Education, for example, found that those with research experience were more likely to pursue graduate degrees. They also were more apt to report that a faculty member played an important role in their career choice.

Such was the case for Porter, whose job was to build electrical hardware for a data-acquisition system used in ongoing experiments. His mentor "explained what he needed, and was confident and reassuring enough to give me autonomy to get it done, " recalls Porter. "He also allowed me to observe experiments and ask questions about the motivation and clinical impact of his research." Inspired, Porter went on to earn a Ph.D. in bioengineering from the University of Washington in 2003. He currently teaches mechanical and bioengineering as an associate professor at Boston University, where he is principal investigator of the Nanomedicine and Medical Acoustics Laboratory and associate director of the Center for Nanoscience and Nanobiotechnology.

The academic community has long considered meaningful undergraduate research experiences with faculty members to be "one of the most powerful of instructional tools, " as a 1989 NSF report put it. America's recent quest to graduate 10, 000 more engineers a year has only increased its relevance.

Undergraduate research has merits beyond expanding the engineering talent pool. One is exposing students to the working world's expectations, says Don Millard, a program director in NSF's Division of Undergraduate Education. That's critical, particularly in product design and development. "As engineers, we're being called upon more and more to be innovative, to be able to create or modify products in ways that actually improve their effectiveness, " explains Millard. "Embedded in that is what we call research." The experimental process helps students frame problems, run analyses, and understand the implications of decisions. As Millard puts it: "What are the questions I need to ask, what are the actions to get answers, what did I learn, and what do I need to do next?"

Unlike coursework, research engages undergraduates in open-ended problems with no one correct solution. "Research gives students a richer and better education experience, so they can apply what they're learning in a lab environment, " agrees Gary May, dean of the College of Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology, who estimates that between 35 and 40 percent of his school's engineering undergraduates are doing some type of research. "It also kind of makes the theory come to life as opposed to having equations on the white board." Active participation in uncovering and testing new theories and facts gives students "a better appreciation for the discovery aspect of learning, " says May. Some may develop their own products or processes, and "maybe even have the opportunity to start a business."

Beyond learning to conduct research, educators say, undergraduates reap the benefit of professional development. "One of the goals is to take really excited, bright students and turn them from dependent researchers to more independent researchers who can digest a problem and write a problem statement, " says Kimberly Cook-Chennault, who runs an REU at Rutgers University called GETUP–or Green Energy Technology Undergraduate Program. Sophomores and juniors work in a lab with faculty members and graduate students for 10 weeks in the summer on nanotechnology, alternative fuels, and energy management systems.

Hands-on research is coupled with professional training. For instance, students learn how to write abstracts, read journals, and present findings. They also receive online mentoring, funding to publish papers or travel to conferences, and other support. "What we found is they're not often exposed to the vocabulary of these sciences and they're not introduced to the process of presenting their work to the public–being able to write an abstract, give a technical talk, submit for a journal, " says Cook-Chennault. "It's very different than what they write for the lab class." Students sometimes hesitate to dig in and ask the necessary questions, she notes, but as a researcher, "you have to read things on your own."

James Palmer, a student who works in Cook-Chennault's lab studying potential energy-harvesting materials, learned to adjust. He says research has honed his focus, curiosity, and patience. "A vast amount of concentration was necessary to get through reading what I at first saw as boring papers, " Palmer reports. He's now "able to visualize the sort of mind-set one needs to read scientific and engineering literature, " which has "come in handy" in his other studies.

Educators who oversee these programs say faculty typically enjoy mentoring undergraduates, even if they require extra time and patience. The experiences help them "understand how to articulate their research" and explain "theory and technology in a different way, " says Cook-Chennault. "And it's enriching because they're doing a good service for the students." Plus, researchers often end up with good data sets–and they can demonstrate their commitment to outreach and diversity, a consideration for NSF funding.

Ultimately, involving undergraduates in research may be one answer to the perennial challenge of increasing the number of U.S. engineers, particularly women and underrepresented populations. For NSF's Millard, the question is "how do you actually bring people across the bridge of what might be the prerequisite courses that students take — physics, chemistry, calculus" — and into "doing engineering?" His answer: by giving undergraduates a better context for why they're learning what they're learning. Research makes the learning meaningful.

Shirley McBay, a former MIT dean for student affairs who runs the Washington, D.C.-based Quality Education for Minorities (QEM) network, believes research experience is a prime way to keep students interested and motivated. She points to a highly competitive summer program QEM ran for NASA for 10 years that brought rising high school juniors and seniors from minority and underrepresented groups to several college campuses. "They were exposed to what real research was like. They weren't just doing busy work, " McBay says. "With that early experience, there's just absolutely no way they weren't stimulated to pursue careers" in science and engineering. Annual feedback from the faculty was positive, she says. In fact, she jokes, out of more than 2, 000 students over 10 years, "the only incident" involved two students caught kissing in the library.

Georgia Tech's Gary May, who directed a summer research program at Georgia Tech for many years, says his main motivation was to address the low numbers of minority students in graduate programs. He would bring 35 to 40 students to campus every summer and try to recruit them for graduate school. Of the roughly 500 students who attended, three quarters went to graduate school and "half of those went here, " May says. "We've become a leader in graduating minority students in engineering with advanced degrees."

Absher has run her own REU program at Duke for 25 years and says over 90 percent of her 341 students have been from minority or underrepresented populations, including many students with disabilities. These students not only go on to pursue graduate degree; they also take time to mentor others. Tyrone Porter says his positive REU experience at Duke helped him recognize the value of undergraduate research. He has served as a research mentor to dozens of undergraduates, he says, many of them women and minorities who go on to top-tier graduate schools. "It is important to me to serve as a role model and introduce as many undergraduate students to the fascinating world of research and all that it has to offer academically, socially, and professionally, " says Porter. "That has and will continue to be a guiding principle for me throughout the remainder of my career." In so doing, he is paving the pathway to success.




Kids and Science

Virginia Democrat Mark Warner

Motivated and confident to begin with, they learn more through design challenges.

By Kristen B. Wendell and Chris Rogers

The recently adopted Common Core State Standards have set high expectations for K-12 math and literacy learning across the United States. Their science education equivalent is the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Developed by 26 states in partnership with expert panels of scientists and engineers, and unveiled in 2013, the NGSS represent America's first new set of national K-12 science-education standards since 1996. Unlike previous frameworks, however, the NGSS not only include but elevate engineering design "to the same level as scientific inquiry in science classroom instruction at all levels"–even in grades K to 5.

The NGSS establish performance expectations. They are not a curriculum, nor do they prescribe one, and much work remains to realize their potential. Still, their focus on engineering represents an opportunity as well as a challenge for the engineering education community. Ideally, engineering educators will collaborate with science educators to incorporate engineering into K-12 experiences in ways that meaningfully reflect the engineering enterprise but do not detract from students' opportunities to learn and enjoy science.

To implement the NGSS, teachers could pose engineering design problems as contexts for building science knowledge. In the 1990s, for example, Janet Kolodner and her team at Georgia Tech began the Learning By Design program, which successfully set middle school science instruction within design-and-build challenges such as miniature vehicle propulsion and erosion management.

Anticipating the movement to include engineering in science education standards for all grades, our research team at Tufts University and Boston College studied whether a design-based science learning approach would work at the elementary school level. We also wanted to explore the reasons for its success or failure. Students who use design-based science curricula could have more positive attitudes toward science because of the hands-on nature of design challenges, and their improved motivation or confidence could explain their science-learning gains.

To explore this hypothesis, we developed Science Through LEGO Engineering curriculum units on properties of materials and objects, simple machines, sound, and animal adaptations. Each unit begins by asking students to consider how they might solve a particular engineering design challenge–for example, create a stable and insulated model house. It then guides them through science investigations to build knowledge and skills for tackling the design challenge, and supports them in applying that learning to design, build, and test a prototype solution out of LEGO components. In Year 1, third- and fourth-grade students of 12 teachers in eight schools studied the four science topics using their school's existing science curriculum. In Year 2, the same 12 teachers taught the same science topics to similar students but with the new LEGO Engineering curriculum. We used paper-and-pencil tests and surveys to measure students' science content knowledge and attitudes before and after instruction with both curricula.

We found that science content knowledge improved more (ranging from 0.23 to 1.12 standard deviations) for the students who used the LEGO Engineering curriculum than for those who used their school's existing science curriculum. We also found no significant difference in science confidence (feeling "good" at science) or science motivation (wanting to "do" science) between the two groups of students.

This combination of findings suggests that improvements in science-learning outcomes during engineering-based science instruction are not explained by an "attitude adjustment" among students. Elementary students have positive science confidence and motivation before and after instruction, whether their teachers use design-based or other approaches. Other factors must have supported the LEGO Engineering students in learning science content while completing engineering design challenges. Determining the mechanisms by which students learn science through engineering is an important next step for researchers in engineering education.

Kristen B. Wendell is an assistant professor of science education at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Chris Rogers is a professor of mechanical engineering and co-director of the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach at Tufts University. This article is based on "Engineering Design-Based Science, Science Content Performance, and Science Attitudes in Elementary School" in the October 2013 issue of the Journal of Engineering Education. The work was supported by NSF grant DRL0633952 and was conducted in collaboration with Linda Jarvin, Kathleen Connolly, Christopher Wright, Michael Barnett, and Ismail Marulcu.





Job–hunting? Here are a few current openings:

1. Civil Engineering –– 3 opportunities

2. Electrical and Computer Engineering –– 2 opportunities

3. Mechanical Engineering –– 4 opportunities

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VII. Webinars for Engineering Educators

Maplesoft Webinar: Advanced Online Testing Solutions in a Freshman Engineering Computation Lab

This webinar presents a detailed case study of how Dr. Bruce Char and his colleagues at Drexel University overcame the challenge of effectively testing and assessing ~900 students/year using advanced technology solutions in a freshman engineering computation lab.

To view the recording, go to







This University of Wisconsin study, the first of its kind, is designed to systematically document what engineers enjoy most (and least) about their jobs, workplaces, and ultimately, the engineering profession. For this purpose, we are conducting a nation-wide survey of women and men who are currently working as engineers. This research will help us gain an understanding of the most important workplace and career experiences that matter in a current engineering role. Anyone interested in participating can find and take the survey here:


"Faculty Under 40," appearing this fall, will feature cutting-edge engineering researchers and passionate teachers. Nominations should be sent to or to, together with supporting information.




The 3rd Annual ASEE International Forum, will be held in Indianapolis, Indiana, on June 14, 2014, immediately preceding the 2014 ASEE Annual Meeting. The forum will bring together engineering professionals from academia and industry from around the globe who are engaged in novel engineering education initiatives to share information on experiences and best practices. The theme this year is "Preparing Students to Meet Global Engineering Challenges."



is launching two "young leader" fellowships for the 2014 Annual Conference in Indianapolis. The fellows will attend the CE Division business and planning meetings and shadow the program chair and division chair during the conference. A $500 stipend will be awarded to each Fellow to help offset the annual conference registration fee.


Applications now being accepted for "Mapping the Field of Engineering Education Research Conference"

Gulf-Southwest Conference

Engineering educators, industry professionals, K-12 teachers, and college students are invited to attend the 2014 ASEE Gulf-Southwest Conference on "Interactive Learning in Engineering Education" ( at the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel in the New Orleans French Quarter on April 2-4. Click here to register.



Applications now being accepted for "Mapping the Field of Engineering Education Research Conference"

Zone 1 Conference at Bridgeport

The 2014 ASEE Zone 1 conference will be held at the University of Bridgeport on April 3-5. Held once every 5-6 years, the conference is expected to attract more than 1000 faculty, students and experts from academia and industry who are interested in engineering education, STEM Education, Research and Development in Engineering and Engineering Technology. This year's theme is: "Engineering Education: Industry Involvement and Interdisciplinary Trends." Professional Papers, Student Papers and Student Posters are being accepted. Visit the conference website.


Applications now being accepted for "Mapping the Field of Engineering Education Research Conference"


The 2014 ASEE Zone IV conference will be hosted by the College of Engineering, California State University, Long Beach on April 24-26, 2014 in Long Beach, CA. The conference theme this year is "Student Success Is Our Success: Developing diverse engineers for a changing world through engineering pedagogy & practice." Any questions regarding the conference can be directed to the host conference co-chairs Lily Gossage or Nim Marayong at

ERC Conference Registration

Online registration and housing for the 2014 Engineering Research Council (ERC) Annual Conference being held March 17–19, 2014 at The Sheraton Hotel in Silver Spring, MD is now open.

Register by Friday, February 21, 2014 to take advantage of discounted registration rates. Visit the link below to register today.

The ERC of ASEE supports and enhances research in engineering, technology, computing, and applied science in educational organizations. Engineering deans, associate deans, department chairs, and faculty are encouraged to attend this year's Annual Conference.

More information about this year's Conference, including the preliminary program, can be found by visiting the ERC's web page here:





FEATURE ONE: ADVANCED PLACEMENT: A push is on to develop an advanced-placement high school engineering course, a big step in solidifying engineering in the K-12 curriculum and one that may necessitate change in college curricula.

FEATURE TWO: CARBON: Where once carbon capture and storage–or CCS -- was a preferred way to curb climate change, specialists now use the acronym CCUS. The "U" stands for utilization of carbon gases in a variety of ways.

Read last month's issue of Prism magazine





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