A: Engineering Education

TITLE: The Complexities of Transforming Engineering Higher Education

PRESENTERS: Ann McKenna, Arizona State University; Jeffrey Froyd, Texas A&M University; Judson C. King, University of CA at Berkeley; Thomas Litzinger, Penn State University; Elaine Seymour, University of CO; Norman Fortenberry, ASEE

Governmental, corporate and non-profit organizations have been calling for transformational change in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education in the U.S. for many years (e.g., Boyer, 1990; Boyer Commission on Educating Undergraduates in the Research University, 1998; Cicerone, et al., 2010; Jamieson & Lohmann, 2009; National Research Council, 1999b, 2003a, 2003b, 2007, 2010; National Science Board, 1996; National Science Foundation, 1996). As a result, a number of Federal agencies as well as corporate foundations have invested significant resources in an effort to improve teaching and learning in STEM disciplines. The continuing calls for STEM transformation suggest several assumptions: 1) previous investments have not resulted in the desired level of change, 2) educators in the STEM community share the same level of agreement that change is necessary, 3) educators in the STEM community share a common vision for what needs to be changed, and 4) mechanisms for educational transformation are well-known and are straightforward to implement. Several recent reports have addressed these assumptions and raised questions about how transformation might effectively occur within an education system (e.g., Dancy & Henderson, 2008; DeHaan, 2005; Fairweather, 2010; Zemsky, 2009).

Consistent with recent calls for transformation and in recognition of the need for new approaches to facilitating widespread adoption of more effective approaches to teaching and learning in STEM fields, the Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE) at the National Science Foundation (NSF) recently changed the name of the Course, Curriculum and Laboratory Improvement (CCLI) program to Transforming Undergraduate Education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (TUES). The revised program places greater emphasis on projects that have potential to transform undergraduate STEM education. Accordingly, program review criteria were modified; specifically, two additional criteria were added: (1) propose materials, processes, or models that have the potential to enhance student learning and to be adapted easily by other sites and (2) involve a significant effort to facilitate adaptation at other sites (NSF solicitation 10-544). In response to changes represented in the new TUES program, and in recognition of the fact that facilitating adaptation of materials in an effort to promote transformative change is very challenging, DUE funded a project to bring together practitioners and scholars to help articulate issues involved in transforming undergraduate education in STEM. The project, led by the National Academy of Engineering’s Center for the Advancement of Scholarship in Engineering Education, included a forum that was held on February 7-8, 2011. It was attended by an invited group of change management scholars, STEM educators, engineering education researchers and administrators, social science researchers, and evaluation experts. This diverse group of participants discussed the complexities of transformation within the setting of higher education in general, and within engineering education in particular. Our presentation will summarize the forum discussions that focused on the following questions:

  • What is the system in which transformative change must occur?
  • What are the goals, priorities and expected time frame for educational transformation?
  • How does engineering education change occur?
  • What research is needed to understand pathways for transformation within engineering education?


TITLE: Connecting the First Year Experience and a Living Learning Program on a Large Scale

PRESENTERS: Carmellia King-Davis, Michigan State University; Thomas F. Wolff, Michigan State University; Timothy Hinds, Michigan State University; Neeraj Buch, Michigan State University

In 2005, The College of Engineering at Michigan State University embarked on a bold initiative to increase the academic, professional and social engagement of early engineering students. This has had two primary components:

  • The Cornerstone Engineering program provides a pair of courses that are now engaging approximately 1000 first year students in hands-on, team-based design projects.
  • The Engineering Residential Experience provides a livinglearning community and co-curricular programming that will engage over 500 students in the coming year.

These two components are co-located in a common residence hall where the college also provides walk-in academic advising, computer labs, tutoring, external speakers, social activities and other programming aimed at both professional and social development.Finally, the initiative is now bringing on corporate support connected to themes drawn from the National Academy of Engineering’s “Grand Challenges.” The presentation will discuss the development of the combined initiative starting with planning in the period 2006-08, piloting of the cornerstone courses in 2008-09, launching of the residential experience in 2009, and quality improvement of the program throughout that period.

The development of such a large-impact set of programs required significant coordination and socialization with college faculty, university academic administration, university housing administration, and corporate interests. The combination of linked initiatives has not only transformed the educational experience of first year engineering students, it has also yielded effective strategies used to assist students in their transition to higher education. By offering both academic and co-curricular experiences for students, this combination provides a more well-balanced approach addressing the needs of the whole student. The curricular component of the engineering program consists of two introductory courses. The first, Introduction to Engineering Design, provides early team-based hands-on design experiences and an introduction to topics common to all engineering disciplines (innovation, the design process, teamwork, communication skills, etc). It derives from the recommendations of the “Engineer of 2020” reports (1,2). There has been significant and continuing evolution of the course content, which will be described in the presentation. The second course, Introduction to Engineering Analysis, introduces problem solving and mathematical modeling of engineering problems and systems. While focusing more on individual proficiency, it again uses small group projects to reinforce team skills. Much of the Cornerstone Engineering program was originally derived from common themes contained within first-year courses previously offered by our six individual engineering departments and nine engineering degree programs. Results show that these two courses have made students more academically prepared.

The co-curricular Engineering Residential Experience (ERE) is a comprehensive living-learning program that involves providing student-focused programming and supplemental instructional services in an effort to increase the retention rates of first year engineering students. Living-learning communities have been widely studied in the student affairs literature (e.g. 3,4,5,6,7) and Michigan State has had significant experience with them, including an earlier, much smaller and more limited program in Engineering (8). The development of the Residential Experience included much more than just the physical housing of first-year engineering students in a single residence hall. A unique facet of the residential program is how it supplements the academic courses. Students gain valuable knowledge outside the classroom by having exposure to current topics through speakers, dinners, lab tours, and cross disciplinary interactions with students outside of their majors. The cocurricular programming introduces participants to their engineering major of choice, the engineering profession, engineering careers and academic advising. From a professional developmental focus, students learn concepts of leadership and professional growth through peer mentoring and co-curricular programming. Co-curricular programming also includes corporate site visits, corporate-sponsored speaker events, informal engineering faculty and alumni dinners, and community service activities. Premier corporate partners are afforded the opportunity to develop sponsored “themed floors” and common spaces in the residence hall related to the NAE Grand Challenges. Currently sponsored themes are energy and transportation; conversations are underway for sponsorships around topics such as health, security, sustainability, water, and the environment. Further, these events partner with other academic programs such as the College of Business and the Honors College through purposeful and collaborative co-curricular planning. The success of the residential experience is due in part to the dedication of the co-curricular staff. Students volunteer to participate in this engineering residential experience program. Members of this community form bonds by their academic major preferences and career paths. Co-curricular opportunities are created to assist residential participants in experiencing engineering as it exists today and encourages them to think conceptually about how the profession can be built upon by their individual contributions. Through various interactions with corporate sponsors, engineering faculty members, professional student affairs practitioners and current engineers, students are consistently presented with opportunities to enhance their communications and analytical thinking skills. Students in the program develop a strong sense of community, especially within their major and through their late-night project work in the engineering computer labs located in the residential setting. By co-locating the Cornerstone Engineering Program and the Engineering Residential Experience with the many other facilities and programmatic offerings mentioned, the sense of community has been raised to new levels for early engineering students in terms of quantity and quality of experiences.

Key outcomes of the initiative include the following:

  • Students are declaring and committing to their majors earlier in their college careers
  • Students are focused on professional development earlier than before with clearly defined career exploration strategies
  • Students are developing an early understanding of the challenges facing engineers in the new century
  • Increased utilization of tutorial services • Increasing utilization of academic advising services
  • Increased interests and involvement in student organizations
  • The potential to increase student retention and acceptance into the upper college


1. “The Engineer of 2020: Visions of Engineering in the New Century,” National Academy of Engineering, National Academies Press, 2004.

2. “Educating the Engineering of 2020: Adapting Engineering Education to the New Century,” National Academy of Engineering, National Academies Press, 2005.

3. “Living-Learning Centers: Offering College Students an Enhanced College Experience,” Journal of College and University Student Housing, 1994, J. Arminio.

4. “Residence Arrangement, Student/Faculty Relationships, and Freshman-Year Educational Outcomes,” Journal of College Student Personnel, 1981, E. Pascarella and P. Terenzini.

5. “Different by Design: An Examination of Outcomes Associated with Three Types of Living-Learning Programs,” Journal of College Student Development, 2003, K. Inkelas and J. Weisman.

6. “The Impact of College Residence on the Development of Critical Thinking Skills in College Freshmen,” Journal of College Student Development, 1998, P. Inman and E. Pascarella.

7. “The Effects of Residential Learning Communities and Traditional Residential Living Arrangements on Educational Gains During the First Year of College,” Journal of College Student Development, 1999, G. Pike.

8. “The ROSES Program at Michigan State University: History and Assessment,” American Society for Engineering Education, National Conference; 2001, R. Zmich and T. Wolff.


TITLE: Learning by Design: The EPICS Model of Service-Learning Design Education

PRESENTERS: William Oakes, Purdue University; Carla Zoltowski, Purdue University

Today’s undergraduates face a global work place that presents a multitude of both opportunities and challenges. Technology has connected people around the globe, opened markets and presented opportunities to address a wide range of human needs. This connectivity and mobility has also created global competition that puts pressure on graduates to quickly master a broader set of skills, within and outside their traditional disciplines. To thrive in this environment, they have to work with people of different backgrounds, nationalities and disciplines, some of whom they will never meet. They will employ technology not yet invented to develop new products and address human needs across the globe. They will be asked to apply their skills across this diverse set of contexts and applications that require them to rapidly learn new skills that may be outside of their traditional disciplines. To capitalize on the opportunities and equip graduates to meet these challenges, new approaches to undergraduate education are needed. Traditional classrooms and methods are not efficient ways to develop these broader skills.

One successful approach is Purdue University’s EPICS Program where the local community is engaged in the undergraduate curriculum through service-learning. EPICS is a series of design classes where undergraduates design, develop, deploy and support solutions to compelling needs within the local and global community. EPICS places students in the role of leaders, who drive the development of the designs, negotiate with the community partners and manage their fellow classmates. Faculty members serve as advisors or coaches who guide and mentor students through the design process and capitalize on learning opportunities as they are presented during the development of the designs. EPICS is engineering-centered with all of the designs applying technology to address the community needs, but it is also very multidisciplinary, with more than 70 majors among the 600+ students taking the courses this past year. Students apply their individual disciplinary skills and life experiences to the community-based designs as they develop their own set of professional and disciplinary skills. EPICS is also vertically integrated with a mix of first-year students, sophomores, juniors and seniors and students are allowed to take the classes for multiple semesters, up to all four years. The vertical integration puts upper division students in the position of leaders as they mentor the lower division   students. Lower division students continue with the class and rise up to assume leadership positions.

The broad diversity of students and projects presents many challenges but creates a rich learning environment. To manage the diversity, curricular systems have been developed to guide and assess both team and individual learning and accomplishments. Each design team develops a project plan and is accountable to meet their commitments. Each student develops a set of customized learning goals with their faculty advisor for the semester based on their role within the team, their discipline and their expertise . Students are assessed on demonstration of learning and accomplishments as defined by their goals.

The presentation will provide an overview of the Purdue EPICS Program, the development and approaches to curriculum and assessment within the broadly multidisciplinary, service-learning design teams over the 16 years of the program. The discussion will include the growth and development from the original 40 students to almost 400 per semester and the changes necessitated by the expansion of size and scope. Data will be summarized showing students reporting improvement on professional skills including teamwork, leadership and communication. Students report their participation increases their desire to stay in a STEM field. Development of design skills, professional skills, ethics and moral reasoning, crossdisciplinary learning and critical thinking will also be discussed with examples from each area. EPICS is an innovation that has been disseminated to more than 20 other universities and 47 high schools. Lessons learned during the dissemination will be summarized, including approaches to faculty and teacher development and institutional challenges to curricular changes.