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ASEE Connections

January 2018




In This Issue:

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By Daodao Wang

Over the past 10 years, the total number of engineering Master’s degrees awarded has increased by nearly 20 percent from 22,693 degrees awarded in 2007 to 26,850 degrees awarded in 2016. During the same time period, the degrees awarded to Asian American students increased by 13 percent. This represented a 0.7 percent drop in the percentage of all engineering master’s degrees awarded to Asian Americans. In 2007, 2,616 Asian American males and 1,111 Asian American females graduated with a master’s degree in engineering. In 2016 these numbers had increased to 2,990 Asian American males and 1,226 Asian American females. As a percentage, Asian American female master’s degrees decreased by 17 percent as a proportion of all Asian American engineering master’s degrees awarded from 2007 to 2016.

Source: ASEE’s annual survey, Profiles of Engineering and Engineering Technology Colleges.

Figure 1. Asian American Master’s Degrees 2007–2016

Figure 2. Asian American Male vs. Female Master’s Degrees Awarded 2007–2016



II. NCEES Subject Matter Reports Distributed to all ABET-Accredited Programs
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Hundreds of engineering educators just received their school’s NCEES Subject Matter Reports. Distributed biannually each January and July, the reports provide in-depth analyses of how students performed on the FE exam relative to peers from other ABET-accredited programs.

As the only nationwide engineering exam designed for college seniors, the FE exam is an excellent source for feedback on how well students meet the outcomes prescribed by accreditation criteria.

NCEES provides a variety of resources for engineering educators to use for effective outcomes assessment.

To find out who is receiving the report for your institution, e-mail institutionreports@ncees.org.





Reaction against the Federal Communications Commission’s 3-2 vote last month to roll back net-neutrality regulations has commenced. So far, at least 22 state attorneys general have signed on to a suit seeking to upend the agency’s decision, and several nonprofit groups have filed suits against the FCC, as well. Senate Democrats say they have so far rounded up 50 of the 51 votes needed to approve a measure reversing the FCC decision. Supporters of net neutrality say that without it, Internet service providers could create a two-tiered Internet that might require paying extra money for faster service, placing smaller content providers at a disadvantage against larger rivals. There are also fears that service providers could try to make their own content more appealing to consumers by purposely slowing the speeds of competitors. While opponents and proponents of net neutrality don’t always break along party lines, the looming legal and political battles are mostly shaping up that way, with Democrats leading the charge against the FCC. The commission’s 3-2 vote fell along party lines, with Republicans voting to scuttle net neutrality. All of the attorneys general filing the suit are Democrats, and 49 of the 50 senators who have supported the law that would reinstate the regulation are Democrats. Even if the Senate passes the bill, it faces a much higher hurdle in the House, where the GOP majority is greater. President Trump supports the FCC decision, so even if Congress passed legislation blocking the its new rule, he’s not likely to sign it. Why are the Democrats bothering then? To put a spotlight on the FCC decision, which isn’t very popular, particularly among younger voters, thus turning it into a campaign issue ahead of the mid-term elections later this year.



The Pentagon and its main congressional supporters have long been irritated by the Food and Drug Administration’s slow approval process of therapies and devices they say are needed to save lives on the battlefield, The Hill newspaper reports. In particular, the Department of Defense has been frustrated by a 10-year impasse over gaining FDA approval of freeze-dried plasma—cold-stored platelets and cryopreserved platelets. The DOD says freeze-dried plasma could save lives by preventing a fatal loss of blood in wounded troops, the paper says. Last year, defense hawks in Congress tried an end run around the FDA when they inserted approval for freeze-dried plasma in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). That move, however, was successfully thwarted by the FDA and its supporters in Congress who said that the DOD’s approval process wasn’t as rigorous as the FDA’s and could put soldiers at risk. In a compromise, the NDAA ordered the FDA to speed up its approval process. Prompted by that bill, the two agencies this month announced new steps that could expedite approval of drugs and devices for battlefield use, the Hill says. First up is, of course, seeking approval for freeze-dried plasma. The two agencies say the steps include quarterly meetings to discuss Pentagon health priorities, and treating those priorities with a “breakthrough therapy” designation, which allows for a speedier review of medical products. The steps also include other regularly scheduled meetings and workshops.





Not Always a Good Force

By Debbie Chachra

“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” Thus did J. Robert Oppenheimer, quoting the Bhagavad Gita, register the enormity of the Trinity test, the first detonation of a nuclear weapon. It was a singular moment, when scientists and engineers unleashed something with globe-spanning repercussions for humanity. Oppenheimer grimly noted later that “physicists have known sin, and this is a knowledge which they cannot lose.” In some ways, this marked the beginning of an erosion of the standing of scientists and engineers as an unalloyed force for good; with isotopes from nuclear testing appearing in species worldwide, it’s a striking example of how localized technologies can have a planet-wide effect. Since then, our society has become increasingly aware that Earth is a finite volume to dissolve waste into, whether it’s carbon dioxide in the atmosphere or plastic in the oceans.

As the evidence of the human costs of engineering decisions has mounted, we’ve also become more aware of how these costs (and risks) are borne unequally, often by the people who benefit the least. The vaunted Victorian triumphs of infrastructural engineering, including London’s pioneering sewer system, were financed from public coffers filled with the spoils of empire, leaving the former colonies economically denuded. This past summer, one of those countries, Bangladesh, suffered through historic flooding that affected a third of the country. While it’s difficult to attribute specific events to anthropogenic climate change, it’s certainly a harbinger of the effect of rising sea levels on people who haven’t benefited at all from the fossil-fuel consumption—in part because of its low GDP, Bangladesh has one of the lowest rates of energy consumption per capita.

The past few decades have brought us global-scale communication systems in the form of the Internet, with new, unintended consequences at far remove from the creators and beneficiaries. As I write this, researchers have just announced new facial-recognition software that can identify individual faces even when they are covered by a scarf or a mask. A doctoral student who was one of the researchers behind the study has said that he was just thinking about criminals when he developed the software; he didn’t consider how this technology could be used by authoritarian states to identify protesters. Stories like this—a new technology that is likely to have disproportionately negative consequences for non-majority or underprivileged groups—seem to surface monthly.

In Kim Stanley Robinson’s 1992 novel, Red Mars, one of the characters describes a group of scientists: “[y]oung men and women, educated very carefully to be apolitical, to be technicians who thought they disliked politics, making them putty in the hands of their rulers, just like always.” Here in 2017, with the unintended but not unforeseeable consequences of technology all around us, we’ve lost the luxury of considering engineering education to be politically neutral. To be politically “neutral” means only that you are aligned with the status quo. We need to ask our students to at least begin to consider the larger social and environmental consequences of the technologies they are devising, whether it’s a smartphone app or a hydroelectric power plant. It’s not that they will be able to change everything about the world that they’re in, but if they aren’t thinking about these consequences—or worse, if they think that it’s not their responsibility to think about these larger contexts—it means the people who are perhaps most equipped to consider the impacts of novel technologies are recusing themselves from doing so. To help our students and graduates consider the context of their work means that we, as educators, need to recognize that nearly everything we teach has a social dimension, and we need to start addressing and presenting it as integral to the engineering content, not just siloed off in the odd “Engineering and Society” class. Our students will be building the world of the future; it’s our responsibility to help them think about the world they will be building.


Debbie Chachra is a professor of engineering at Olin College.






Sonnets, comics, and videos show that teaching creatively can foster students’ creativity along with conceptual knowledge—even in core courses like thermodynamics.

By Diana Bairaktarova and Michele Eodice

Over the past 50 years or more, creativity has moved from the narrow definition of “self-expression” to become a prominent concept in learning and teaching. Although many instructors avoid the risks associated with creative assignments and continue to evaluate students using traditional exams, essays, or lab reports, many others are attracted to contemporary views of creative ways of knowing and doing. Engineers have always approached problem solving with a creative energy, sometimes whether they know that or not. So in thinking about how best to develop future engineers, we advocate teaching creatively and teaching to foster creativity.

Thermodynamics is a foundational course in nearly every engineering program. In a traditional classroom, instructors focus on the analysis of thermodynamic energy systems and their application to real-world contexts. Because these complex systems can be difficult to understand, some instructors encourage students to tap into their creative side and translate thermodynamics into a language they can clearly understand. In this study, we assessed the effectiveness of developing a creative project to demonstrate the learning of a thermodynamics concept.

The project was introduced to more than 150 engineering students enrolled in a sophomore level, semester-long, introductory thermodynamics course. Each student submitted an entry, which was an original poem, short story, comic, short movie or video, or other format, that they believed epitomized an important course concept of their choosing. Then in a tournament-style contest, the creative products were presented and winners were chosen. The presentations were high-energy events in rhythms and rhymes, encompassing odes to thermodynamics, comics featuring Batman throwing a punch to demonstrate conservation of mass, and even a board game. The creative entries can be found at http://ouopentextbooks.org/thermodynamics.

Our study focused on the impact of developing a creative product (for example, a poem about the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics) on students’ performance on a final exam question related to the creative presentation topic. The results of the study show that the creative assignment made the learning process more visible and measured the learning of thermodynamics in a different way. Students indicated that participation in the contest helped clarify course concepts and increased their appreciation of the Laws of Thermodynamics and the engineering profession. The students also claimed the contest encouraged them to think about the concepts in novel ways and stimulated their creativity.

The study results provide evidence of the benefits of our creative project, suggesting that if students chose a creative medium to present thermodynamics concepts, they attained significantly better scores on the final exam. The full analysis of the data is included in our AEE article. Primarily, we are suggesting that designing assignments that encourage student creativity in learning engineering concepts can potentially strengthen their understanding of fundamental concepts. We recommend that instructors randomly assign students to specific concepts to ensure more diversity in terms of material coverage. We implemented the creative assignment in a traditional classroom, but instructors can assign it in both online and blended courses by utilizing the class website. The flexibility of this type of creative project, coupled with its ease of implementation, makes it an exciting assessment for educators and students in multiple topic areas, across disciplines or class formats.

We advocate for more instructors to value creativity as a way of knowing. Both of us try to teach creatively and also teach to foster creativity. What does that mean for preparing engineers? Solving the well-understood and ill-structured problems that make up the core of engineering thinking would be enhanced by showing an openness to creative approaches. Our time with students is limited, but we all share the goal of teaching them to become adept with diverse peoples and ideas, to collaborate, and to contribute more and better ideas through creative ways of knowing in engineering.


Diana Bairaktarova is an assistant professor in the department of engineering education at Virginia Tech and director of the Abilities, Creativity, and Ethics in Design Lab. Michele Eodice is the associate provost for academic engagement and director of the OU Writing Center at the University of Oklahoma. This article is excerpted from “Thermodynamics in High Rhythms and Rhymes: Creative Ways of Knowing in Engineering,” published in the fall 2017 Advances in Engineering Education. Bairaktarova and Eodice are also the editors of the book Creative Ways of Knowing in Engineering (Springer).





Job–hunting? Here are a few current openings:





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COVER:  BIOTECHNOLOGY — What will it take for this growing field to become the next big thing?

FEATURE: FLOATING ISLAND — The pioneers behind a floating community off Tahiti envision it as the first step toward sustainable habitats on the sea worldwide.

PLUS: A special section on the 2018 ASEE Annual Conference features a guide to the best of Salt Lake City.





The first-of-its-kind GEM-ASEE Doctoral Engineering Research Showcase, sponsored by The National GEM Consortium (GEM) and ASEE, will be held January 22-23, 2018, at the Mayflower Hotel, Washington, DC. Doctoral students, postdoctoral fellows, and new faculty will display their leading-edge technical research and connect with potential agency sponsors and academic employers. Find out more. Watch a video.


In partnership with Boeing, ASEE is calling on the world’s greatest thinkers, designers, engineers, and builders to challenge themselves and change the future. Registration for the competition is now open and all details are available here.


ASEE is co-hosting the First Annual CoNECD (Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity—pronounced “connected”) Conference April 29 to May 1. It will be a forum on enhancing diversity and inclusion of underrepresented groups in engineering and computing. CoNECD will encompass many diverse groups, including those based on gender (including gender identity and gender expression), race and ethnicity, disability, veterans, LGBTQ+, 1st generation and socio-economic status. It's a collaboration of ASEE's Minorities in Engineering and Women in Engineering divisions and several outside groups. ASEE members can submit an abstract here (login required.)


ASEE ED Norman Fortenberry presents the rationale for a proposed reorganization of the ASEE Board of Directors. Watch a video and leave your feedback (ASEE member login required; Firefox works best.)


ASEE's free monthly newsletter for undergraduate and graduate students has a wide array of resources: scholarship and internship/co-op listings, student news and essays, podcasts, professional development resources (e.g., advice on how to get an internship and how to make the most of it), and academic advice - plus entertaining engineering videos. Tell your students! Click here to subscribe. Click here to advertise. Send content to Jennifer Pocock at j.pocock@asee.org.



Filled with engaging features, gorgeous graphics, and useful information about engineering colleges and careers, the latest edition of ASEE's award-winning Engineering, Go For It! is sure to get your students excited about learning - and doing - engineering!


ASEE surveyed engineering and engineering technology deans on how they think about Making, how Makerspaces are utilized on their campuses, how Making is used in their curriculum, and what positive student outcomes they attribute to Making. A separate survey sent to the broader Maker community asked that population how it defines Making, how it finances and manages Makerspaces, and how it engages members of the community in Making. See the results at: https://aeir.asee.org/advancing-the-maker-movement/.


This free webinar series will explore themes from ASEE’s NSF-supported workshop Voices on Women’s Participation and Retention. Webinar topics include engaging men as gender equity allies, developing mentors and role models, and how faculty can evolve organizational culture and effect change on campus. Learn more and register today!


Now in its third year, the Chairs Conclave is an exclusive forum where engineering & engineering technology chairs can share ideas, talk through challenges, and build relationships. This year’s event will take place on June 24 in Salt Lake City, UT, offered in conjunction with ASEE’s 125th Annual Conference and Exposition. Secure your seat by registering today.


Don’t miss this live, four-part online program for faculty and instructors who want to streamline their course design process and produce more successful and effective courses. ASEE members save $130 on registration! Learn more and register here. E-mail education@asee.org to inquire about group rates and discounted student rates.


NREWC/ASEE is searching for a candidate to support a three year proposal focused on investigating and characterizing chemical, thermodynamic and physical characteristics of laboratory prepared and actual bilgewater samples. The purpose of this work is to advance the current understanding of bilgewater emulsion stabilization to guide wastewater treatment research and develop preventative solutions. Therefore, the candidate must have experience in colloidal and emulsion systems. This can include applicable research in Chemistry, Biology, Food Science, Chemical Engineering, Materials Science or other related fields. Please visit nrewc.asee.org/current_opportunities for the complete job description.




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