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ASEE Connections
July 2014 Subscribe
In This Issue: Products & Programs

Rigol Technologies
Mixed Signal Oscilloscopes

SAE International
Learn about SAE International's Engineering Recognition Program!

Webinar: How Can Symbolics Help Engage Students and Enrich Controls Curriculum?

Seattle University wins 2014 NCEES Engineering Award

ASEE Promotion:

ASEE's Exclusive New "Engineering Education Suppliers Guide"
A new online resource designed specifically to help engineering educators locate products and services for the classroom and research.
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Female Engineering Doctoral Degrees Awarded: Top 5 Engineering Disciplines

This month's databyte presents the top five engineering disciplines whose percentage of doctoral degrees awarded to female students increased the most between 2003 and 2013. Biomedical doctoral degrees awarded showed the largest increase, with an increase of over 170 percent. Computer Science (inside engineering) and mechanical engineering doctoral degrees awarded showed significant increases 97 and 70 percent respectively. Electrical engineering saw the lowest increase of the top five disciplines represented with 31 percent.






While not generous, the Energy-Water spending bill now trapped in the Senate Appropriations Committee would fund the Office of Science at close to $5.1 billion, a slightly more than it's currently getting, and provide $3.9 billion for applied research and development of a range of energy technologies. The latter amount includes $280 million for ARPA-E, the Energy Department's high-risk, high-reward research agency. According to a summary, it contains $125 million for water-resources studies; $151 million (drawn from the Office of Science and the National Nuclear Security Administration) for exascale computing, due to by deployed by 2022; and $304 million for cybersecurity. ScienceInsider reports that the Senate numbers are slightly higher than the House's.


Senate appropriators refused to go along with the Obama administration's bid to cut some $30.5 million from the Fulbright Program, which falls within the State Department's budget. Altogether, the Senate panel proposed $590.7 million for Educational and Cultural Exchanges.


Coal state congressmen from both parties are uniting to help water down Obama administration guidelines that prevent the Export-Import Bank from financing overseas power plants that are coal-fired, according to The Hill newspaper. The deadline to reauthorize the 80-year-old bank is September 30, and coal-state pols are using that relatively short deadline to their advantage, hoping that a more pro-coal stance by the bank could help it stave off efforts to shutter it. The Hill says that coal proponents argue that limiting coal exports also limits the ability of the U.S. to export clean-coal technologies, and ultimately that could cause overseas carbon dioxide emissions to increase. The Ex-Im bank is the latest Tea Party target. Conservatives argue that it's mainly an exercise in corporate welfare; they want the bank abolished. Loosening the bank's coal guidelines could give GOP members cover to reauthorize Ex-Im, the paper says.






Engineering's Iterative Approach Helps Middle School Teachers Develop Engaging and Effective New Lessons

By Kristen Billiar, Jeanne Hubelbank, Thomas Olivia and Terri Camesano

We all know that even our best students find it difficult to sit still for an hour and passively absorb the content of our brilliant lectures. So why aren't all of our learning activities "active" and "student-centered?" Well… it's hard to develop effective, problem-based learning experiences.

Now consider trying to develop inquiry-based lessons to help middle-school students learn difficult STEM concepts such as understanding the relationships between weight, mass, gravity, volume, and density while preparing them for standardized tests. Further, imagine teaching these lessons within tight constraints of standards, time, and cost, with limited background and confidence in engineering. It's a daunting task, and middle school is a crucial intervention point for encouraging students to pursue engineering. To meet this challenge, we developed a structured process to help teachers develop lesson plans with confidence that the activities will be innovative, relevant, and within the constraints of the teacher and classroom environment.

Recognizing the parallel between curricular design and engineering design, we thought that the formal engineering design process (EDP) would be a useful framework for aiding K-12 teachers in the development of STEM lessons. When creating lessons, teachers continually assess the task at hand, plan an approach, assess their students' progress, and adjust their approach accordingly. For a more structured approach, many educators turn to models of instructional design (ID) that are similar to the EDP. However, those models lack the EDP's emphasis on creating various approaches (multiple alternative designs) from which the best is selected by careful weighing against curriculum objectives and meeting of constraints. Further, as generating a solution often requires iteration, revision is an explicit step in the EDP and, we believe, an essential step in lesson planning.

This approach to curriculum design was piloted in a National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) program at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Our RET program provides opportunities for teachers to practice research in collaboration with college faculty. In the program, funded over a three-year period, 15 middle school teachers received in-depth exposure to an area of biomedical engineering through a six-week, hands-on, inquiry-based research laboratory experience involving bioengineering design. In addition, the teachers utilized the EDP to develop design projects to teach difficult STEM concepts in their classrooms while boosting students' learning and motivation. In doing so, the teachers also became more comfortable with the EDP themselves.

While our article featured one particular lesson, "Design of a Ligament Replacement for a Youth Knee Injury," other teacher-developed lesson topics included the design of lighter helmets, exercise equipment for astronauts, and a filter for potable water. The bioengineering focus also encouraged empathy and helped engage female students who often are not motivated by building bridges and catapults. For example, they created devices to assist disabled students in completing everyday tasks like opening a soda can, telling time, and sharing a meal with a friend. Each of these learning activities is the product of a teacher using the EDP to explain such STEM concepts as adaptive design, the need for assistive devices, why bone density changes depending upon loading, how kidneys function, or human joint mechanics, as well as engineering design itself. Teachers noted that their students were engaged, intellectually and actively, with the EDP lessons.

By providing structure, requiring the development of multiple alternative solutions, and calling attention to classroom constraints, the EDP serves as an effective process for guiding teachers toward more interactive and engaging project-based lessons. With the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards, which stress the integration of the scientific and engineering fields, many science teachers will be including engineering design in their curricula. Using the EDP to meet these new needs, teachers can provide productive learning experiences for their students.

Kristen Billiar is a professor of biomedical engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and fellow of ASME. Jeanne Hubelbank is a program evaluation and assessment consultant in education. Thomas Oliva is a middle school technology teacher in Worcester, Mass. Terri Camesano is assistant dean of engineering and a professor of chemical engineering at WPI.





Simulators and Mobile Apps Can Help Students Grasp Fundamental Engineering Concepts — Including Structural Failure.

By Alice Daniel

There were no computer stores in his small Argentina hometown, so Julian Rimoli learned to program his own games. By high school, he'd parlayed a growing knowledge of physics into coding small, Angry Birds-style simulations. "I always had that in me," says Rimoli, an assistant professor of aerospace engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Thus it was only natural that, standing at the whiteboard teaching statics last year, he began wondering how to better convey loads and stress using computer simulations, because "things move around a lot."

Truss Me! the iPad application that Rimoli developed in his spare time incorporates the most advanced structural-design techniques and, like Angry Birds, is based on the principles of physics. But unlike most bridge-building games, which typically give players incorrect feedback and different responses for the same construction scenario, Rimoli's was designed "to make sure the simulations were a true reflection of reality," including buckling and other structural failure. Initially he used the app to demonstrate and solve problems during class but then decided to make it a game that students could download and play anywhere. "When we are teaching, we focus a lot on the methods of solving problems," explains Rimoli. "There's nothing wrong with that: Engineers should know the methods, but sometimes we're not doing enough to empower the creative side of our students."

There seems to be an app for almost everything these days, from tracking expenses to learning chess. Yet despite the market's exponential growth the technology-research firm Gartner predicts that mobile-app downloads could top 179 billion globally this year and a proliferation of app-design classes and student clubs, engineering educators only recently have begun to tap these new tools. Examples so far include engineering faculty at Sheffield University in England, who now install a free app to record attendance and use polling in some instruction and assessment, as the school's revised policy now requires. Engineers at the University of California, San Diego, are field-testing an iPad app they recently developed that helps students learn to visualize two- and three-dimensional objects, a key skill for success in engineering.

Educators say 3-D computational models like Truss Me! let students test hypothetical scenarios that otherwise would be impossible in the traditional classroom . "As someone who has analytical tools at the tip of his fingertips but lacks the physical hardware to test my design intuition, this app is like a virtual mechanical playground," enthuses Kevin Okseniuk, a Georgia Tech aerospace engineering major in Rimoli's statics course. "I love it!" For Georgia Tech aerospace engineering graduate student Matteo Carrara, imagination is the only limit. "Being able to try out concepts you are learning directly on your tablet or phone is a really useful complement" to more traditional methods of teaching, he says. Rimoli's app fans extend well beyond his statics students. ETH Zurich, a top Swiss engineering school, is using Truss Me! in a design competition involving 800 students. As of late March, the app ranked no. 22 among paid iPhone education apps.

Such innovations remain a rarity in engineering schools, however. "There's just a lack of nice simulations that are delivered on tablets or even on Web pages," says Kurt Gramoll, a professor of engineering and director of the University of Oklahoma's Engineering Media Lab, who created an app that simulates complex shear forces. "It's almost like apps are designed for engineers and yet we don't use them!" Indeed, the majority of top-selling educational apps on iTunes are geared toward elementary and middle school students. While this market is "flooded with apps that you can reference to solve many engineering problems, from finding the moment of inertia of a regular volume to numerically solving integrals to calculating the area of a rectangle," notes Georgia Tech's Okseniuk, none "use high-end modeling algorithms in simulating physical problems," as Rimoli's game does.

Truss Me! teaches optimal design techniques through building and testing virtual stick structures to see if they will support a weight or snap. A freestyle mode offers endless possibilities for experimentation. In the challenge mode, players tackle real-world problems and can move up to higher levels by designing increasingly lighter structures that are also safe. Instant visual feedback shows not only how the structure fails but also where the stresses are distributed when the design works. Players who reach certain milestones receive a golden nut - as in nuts and bolts - award. "After all, it is an engineering game!" says Rimoli. Earning a single nut is relatively easy. To get the maximum of three, however, players must be within 2 percent of Rimoli's highest score, which can be "really complicated," he adds. Only one person consistently beats Rimoli: a tool and die maker in Ohio, one of the more than 2,500 people who have purchased Truss Me! since its debut in the iTunes store last November.

Other engineering educators hope to join the app-using ranks. Oklahoma's Gramoll, for example, has developed an app called HPC Torsion that allows students to calculate the "shear stress and total angle of rotation of a symmetrical solid bar" for up to 230,000 degrees of freedom. Undergraduates in a typical mechanics-of-materials course cover only circular bars. With Gramoll's app, they can determine shear stresses in advanced noncircular torsion bars and cross sections, or "do some quick analysis" on, say, an octagonal shape.

Why have engineering educators been slow to develop apps? "There's no reward, to put it bluntly," maintains Gramoll. "It's not highly respected in the tenure and promotion procedures, and along with that it takes a lot of time." Moreover, app-makers also must know programming, which limits the pool to faculty with one foot in computer science and the other in engineering. It's also a nightmare to get the app on iTunes, Gramoll adds, and just like textbooks, there's scant likelihood of making enough money to justify the effort.

Georgia Tech undergraduate Okseniuk believes engineering professors who code their own mobile apps, like Rimoli and Gramoll, will remain scarce. But faculty could be brought onto projects as "technical and educational consultants." He also predicts apps like Truss Me! will attract and teach foundational engineering concepts to a wide array of K-12 students. Okseniuk's sister, a sophomore in high school, and their middle-school cousin "really enjoyed playing with the app," he says. "They even sent me snapshots of the challenge-mode menu as they completed the levels." Rimoli says state-of-the-art simulations can engage middle and high school students "to get into engineering without a dumbed-down version of an app." Volunteering at a Latino STEM fair hosted by Georgia Tech recently, he found high school students were especially intrigued by Truss Me!

Oklahoma graduate student Jared Wilson had never used an educational app in an engineering course before discovering HPC Torsion. He found it an "excellent tool" for obtaining "numerical approximations to difficult equations quickly and freely." In fact, the app inspired Wilson to conduct his master's research under Gramoll - and build a computer simulation to model fluid flow around two-dimensional cross sections. He hopes the fruits of his "really fun" research will "help students when they need to calculate drag and lift coefficients." It may even inspire some to build their own engineering apps.

There were no computer stores in his small Argentina hometown, so Julian Rimoli learned to program his own games. By high school, he'd parlayed a growing knowledge of physics into coding small, Angry Birds-style simulations. "I always had that in me," says Rimoli, an assistant professor of aerospace engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Thus it was only natural that, standing at the whiteboard teaching statics last year, he began wondering how to better convey loads and stress using computer simulations, because "things move around a lot."




Webinar: How Can Symbolics Help Engage Students and Enrich Controls Curriculum?

In this webinar, learn new techniques for using symbolic computation to engage students, enriching their understanding of systems and enhancing the way control design is taught. Different aspects of controls, including multidomain plant modeling, linearization, design and controller testing with hardware will be demonstrated.

To view the recorded version of the webinar, go to





$25,000 Grand Prize Will Be Used to Fund Future Humanitarian Engineering Projects

Faculty and undergraduate students from the Seattle University Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, with the help of several licensed professional engineers, won $25,000 for their efforts to bring safe and efficient lighting to a school and surrounding community in Muhuru Bay, Kenya. With no grid connection, the community must use kerosene lamps for lighting, which is not only expensive and dangerous, but also limits instructors' ability to teach and prevents students from studying in the evening.

The project was selected from 37 entries, which were reviewed by an 11-member jury representing academia and professional engineering societies such ABET, ASEE, NSPE, and the DiscoverE Diversity Council. Jury members considered criteria such as

    • Successful collaboration of faculty, students, and licensed professional engineers
    • Benefit to public health, safety, and welfare
    • Multidiscipline and/or allied profession participation
    • Knowledge or skills gained

Randy Collins, Ph.D., P.E., represented ASEE on the jury panel. He applauded the NCEES Engineering Award as "a great opportunity for programs to receive national recognition for their efforts to connect engineering education with the profession."

Five additional winners received awards of $7,500 each.

"It is imperative that students preparing to enter the engineering profession understand the vital importance of technical competency and ethical practice," said NCEES President Patty Mamola, P.E. "These projects, which represent a variety of engineering disciplines, are great examples of innovative ways to prepare students for professional practice. We hope they will inspire other engineering programs to incorporate similar collaborations." EAC/ABET-accredited programs from all engineering disciplines are invited to submit projects that integrate professional practice and education for the 2015 competition. Learn about the NCEES Engineering Award project ideas, evaluation criteria, and more at





Job–hunting? Here are a few current openings:

1. Civil Engineering Technology -- 1 opportunity

2. Geotechnical Engineering -- 1 opportunity

3. Mechanical Engineering Technology -- 2 opportunities

Visit here for details:






Surmounting the Barriers: Ethnic Diversity in Engineering Education is the summary of a Sept. 2013 workshop that brought together educators in engineering from two- and four-year colleges and staff members from the three sponsoring organizations: the National Science Foundation, the National Academy of Engineering, and ASEE. The report "discusses reasons why past recommendations to improve diversity had not been adopted in full or in part . . . identifies a series of key impediments [and] shares success stories about instances where barriers to diversity have been identified and surmounted."


ASEE's Engineering Libraries Division has put together a lively collection of photos and tweets that captures the collaboration and camaraderie of the Indy conference. Check it out here.


I-Corps-L: Entrepreneurship in Engineering Education

This National Science Foundation program challenges researchers to think beyond their research results and toward broader adoption of STEM education and learning innovations. I-Corps L (for Learning) teams will receive mentoring and funding - to accelerate innovation in learning that can be successfully scaled, in a sustainable manner. Learn more.



...was founded in 2008 by Nancy Conrad to honor the legacy of her husband, astronaut Charles "Pete" Conrad. It awards prizes to teams of students who create commercially viable, sustainable projects in aerospace and aviation, cybersecurity, energy, and health. Two of this year's winners, high school seniors Margaret Pan and Christopher Yuan, went on to present their invention -- a wastewater collection system for spacecraft -- at the White House Science Fair. This year, for the first time, the competition is being expanded to include teams of university engineering students. Find out more. The challenge offers access to mentors webinars, videos, articles and other resources to help students excel as entrepreneurs.


ASEE's eagerly awaited 540-page Profiles of Engineering and Engineering Technology Colleges has been published. Call ASEE (202-331-3500) to order a copy.


Henry Petroski, the Duke University professor of civil engineering and history who writes PRISM magazine's Refractions column, wrote a high-profile Op/Ed piece for the New York Times in late June that decried the shoddy workmanship typically seen in commercial construction these days, as well as in large public works projects. The article touched a nerve, sparking more than 500 comments -- both pro and con -- when it appeared on the Times's website. It also engendered an item in the popular blog written by NYT economics columnist Paul Krugman, who refers to Petroski as a "fine writer." Krugman called Petroski's article "a great read," but wasn't sure if there was enough evidence to support Petroski's complaint that construction standards have deteriorated in recent years. Many older buildings are indeed superior to ones built today, he agrees, but that could be sample bias. Perhaps, Krugman says, plenty of crummy buildings were built decades ago, too, but they're now long gone.






This year's Engineering Technology Leadership Institute is scheduled for Oct 9-10, and will be held at the Sheraton Crystal City Hotel in Arlington, VA. The ETLI is sponsored by ASEE's Engineering Technology Council and its executive board. More details of the ETLI will soon be posted at:

Read last month's issue of Prism magazine





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