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ASEE Connections

November 2017




In This Issue:

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The accompanying graphic focuses on women in select engineering and engineering technology fields. Civil engineering awarded the highest number of degrees to female students, but environmental engineering had the highest proportion of women. The percentage of women earning degrees in civil engineering (21 percent) was comparable to the percentage of women earning degrees in civil/environmental engineering. Women’s representation in civil engineering technology was 13 percent.





Earlier this month, the Trump administration surprised climate-change scientists and activists when it released a major, detailed scientific study that reconfirmed that global warming is happening and the main cause is human activity. That finding—although it mainly reiterates and reinforces what scientists have been saying for years—runs counter to climate-skeptic statements made by several top administration officials, in particular President Trump himself. Trump, of course, this year pulled the United States out of the 195-nation Paris climate accord. There were fears that the report, two years in the making with contributions from 13 federal agencies, would be spiked since it contradicts the administration’s position on global warming. But the White House feared that quashing it would spark a big controversy that could detract from its efforts to win congressional approval of tax-cut legislation. Nevertheless, a New York Times analysis says despite its publication, the study will likely do little to change the minds of those who reject the idea of climate change. It notes that much research shows that when scientific studies confound long- and deeply-held political views, the political views usually win out. For example, Katharine Hayhoe, a political scientist at Texas Tech University, tells the Times that many conservatives deny global warming because the fixes required sound to them like a liberal agenda to expand government reach. Moreover, she says, while many Americans realize global warming is a growing problem, many don’t think they’ll personally be affected. A second part of the study, set for release next year, could, however, help change those minds, Hayhoe says, because it will detail how climate change is already having an impact on many communities, particularly those susceptible to tidal flooding.


A proposal in the tax bill that passed the House November 16 could severely damage many graduate schools because it would drastically increase taxes on their students—a move that almost certainly would reduce enrollments, according to Axios, the online news outlet. U.S. tax law now exempts tuition that’s provided for free to master’s and Ph.D. students. The bill would do away with that exemption, requiring grad students to declare their stipends and grants as taxable income. One fourth-year doctoral student tells Axios that his annual tax bill would jump from $2,700 to $10,000—an increase that would force him to drop out. A biology professor at the University of Texas, Austin, says if the bill becomes law, he would tell prospective Ph.D. students to study in Canada or Europe. Axios explains that, given that the Trump administration has indicated it wants to cut the number of foreign grad students at American colleges and limit their ability to remain in the U.S. after they graduate, this tax change would be another blow to American dominance of global research and innovation.




Ready or Not?

Entrepreneurship has Become an Essential Professional Skill. It Should be Embedded in Engineering.

By Edmund J. Dougherty

As the director of engineering entrepreneurship at Villanova University, I frequently rub shoulders with alumni. Whether returning to campus for reunions, sporting events, or other functions, without exception they wish their undergraduate years had included the business fundamentals instruction we offer now. A common refrain: "It would have helped me tremendously and saved me lots of time in my career."

Engineers didn’t always need entrepreneurship skills. When I was an undergrad studying electrical engineering, employers didn’t care about the course I took in effective communication skills or that I aced an elective in the business school on project management. Nor did interviewers ever ask about my interest in the creative arts or the course in Peace and Justice on my transcript, focusing instead on my technical GPA and how well I performed on their on-the-spot quizzes to design an amplifier using NPN transistors. My first job after graduation was at a large automobile manufacturer. Day after day I was given specifications for circuits to design and algorithms to create. I never knew what others on the project were doing, who the customer was, or the budget. Since I love technology, I was perfectly happy cranking out solutions—and that’s all the company wanted.

Today, however, sophisticated design tools, highly integrated circuits, and a global low-wage workforce of skilled technologists have freed up U.S.-based engineers to concentrate on more sophisticated areas, such as systems design, creativity, opportunity identification, and innovation. The National Academy of Engineering saw this emerging trend, predicting that the Engineer of 2020 will need to be dynamic, agile, and resilient, with good communication and management skills as well as leadership abilities. Indeed, high-tech employers like Lockheed Martin list mentoring, passion, and organizational skills among the qualifications it seeks in engineers. Lifelong learning is another prized attribute—and a glance at today’s new job titles shows why: user-experience engineer, sustainability manager, and cloud-computing architect.

We must do more to meet the needs of employers and society. A number of engineering schools, including Penn State and other pioneers, now offer entrepreneurship minors. Broadening mind-sets, however, requires immersion. At Villanova, "entrepreneurially minded learning" (EML) infuses classes from the freshman engineering core to upper-level courses. Rather than focusing on start-ups, students learn how to identify, evaluate, and act upon opportunities and to explain their technical ideas in economic terms. They still study thermodynamics, of course, but in a way that stresses the value of that knowledge within the context of business and customer needs.

All first-year engineering students, for example, compete in a video pitch exercise against business school students. Many engineering professors also have developed EML-related classroom exercises, semester projects, case studies, readings, videos, and contests in their core and elective classes. Students in a soils class, say, might be challenged to find opportunities inspired by recent news events. Headlines about mudslides, infrastructure repairs, drug smugglers’ tunnels, and Elon Musk’s Hyperloop provide plenty of inspiration! In addition, about 15 percent of engineering majors pursue a 15-credit minor in Engineering Entrepreneurship that covers concepts from market research and technical analysis to leadership, culminating in a prototype product and well-honed pitch. Most of the seniors also will have submitted provisional patents to protect their intellectual property.

A number of entrepreneurship-related extracurricular opportunities supplement EML in the classroom. In the 24-Hour Imagination Quest, a fast-paced team competition mash-up of the Amazing Race and Shark Tank, students must move from idea to trade show booth, complete with logos and prototypes, in a weekend. Hands-on 3-D printing and other workshops help hone students’ ability to turn ideas into working prototypes—a plus over back-of-the-envelope calculations when pitching new ideas to investors and customers.

But what about those scores of graduates who missed this entrepreneurial induction? Their technological acumen will always be widely needed. But to make the most of their careers, and to make an impact on their companies and society, these engineers must continue their education through online courses, certificate programs, and graduate degrees.

For our part, universities need to listen to their own marketplace and offer postgraduate programs that include training in entrepreneurial skills. Let’s help working engineers learn how to design and develop innovative products and services to meet the needs of the marketplace. Let’s train them to identify and assess the viability of potential business opportunities, understand intellectual property issues, and raise finances for companies of any size, start-up to blue chip. By providing the business context in which engineers operate—from supply chain issues to public perceptions—we will enable technologists of all ages to remain productive in today’s rapidly changing global economy.


Edmond J. Dougherty is professor of practice and director of engineering entrepreneurship in Villanova University’s College of Engineering.




Ways to Motivate Teaching Assistants

They want Responsibility and Contact with Both Students and Peers

By Rachel L. Kajfez and Holly M. Matusovich

Graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) play critical roles in higher education. While they are teachers, they also are students. Therefore, institutions have an obligation to design positions and programs that support their professional development. Past studies have analyzed GTA developmental programs from the perspective of content and pedagogy training, but little research has examined the experience of GTAs in these programs. To develop teaching environments and training programs that support GTA development, we must better understand the factors that motivate GTAs.

According to self-determination theory, intrinsic motivation depends on supporting three psychological needs: competence, autonomy, and relatedness. The purpose of our study was to examine graduate students’ motivation to teach in first-year engineering programs with regard to these three needs. We interviewed 12 GTAs from five universities in one phase of a mixed-methods study. Through a combination of a priori and open coding, we identified five factors that affect GTA competence, autonomy, and relatedness. They can be summed up as training, previous experience, appointment structure, students, and teaching colleagues.

All GTAs in our study received training that supported their competence. The most common forms included weekly and university-wide training sessions. These sessions provided a venue for GTAs to learn about program and university policies, course content, and general pedagogical practices. Based on our findings and previous literature, we recommend that all GTA positions include some form of content and pedagogy training.

Across all sites, GTAs reported that prior experiences contributed to their competence. The most common influential experiences were as a teacher or student. Accordingly, we suggest that GTA programs acknowledge and build on GTAs’ previous experiences, tailoring training when feasible. For example, if GTAs will be teaching a lab course and have taught a similar class at a different institution, have them reflect on their previous work, identifying qualities of their teaching they would like to preserve and opportunities for enhancement the new position affords them.

GTAs noted that appointment structures affected their autonomy, including the jobs they were assigned. Duties that supported autonomy included lecturing, grading, one-on-one discussions with students, developing curriculum, holding of?ce hours or review sessions, and overseeing undergraduate teaching assistants. When GTAs felt responsible for or had control over some decisions during each of these types of activities, their autonomy and teaching motivation improved. We recommend that institutions enable GTAs to engage in at least some of these activities.

GTAs reported that their relationships with students affected their teaching experiences. Helping and seeing their students succeed raised their view of—and enthusiasm for—teaching in general. We encourage all GTA positions to include such direct interaction with students as being the instructor of record or taking responsibility for office-hour sessions.

GTAs also discussed relationships with fellow GTAs and with faculty. In most instances, participants viewed their relationships with peers more positively than their relationships with faculty. They described the community they built with their peers and how they were able to learn directly from each other. We recommend that activities be integrated into GTA programs to foster positive working and learning relationships among GTAs.

In their relationships with faculty, our participants had both positive and negative experiences. Often faculty served as gatekeepers to experiences such as delivering a lecture to a class. We suggest faculty supervisors take an individualized approach to supporting competence and autonomy with each graduate student, carefully considering previous experience and appointment structure. We believe this individualized approach could improve relationships between GTAs and faculty.

When developing teaching environments and training programs for GTAs, we recommend that faculty and administrators consider the five factors that we identified and their effects on GTAs as teachers and students. Addressing these factors will strengthen GTAs’ motivation in teaching and, with time, improve the quality of teaching in engineering.


Rachel L. Kajfez is an assistant professor of engineering education at Ohio State University. Holly M. Matusovich is an associate professor of engineering education at Virginia Tech. This article is excerpted from "Competence, Autonomy, and Relatedness as Motivators of Graduate Teaching Assistants" in the April 2017 Journal of Engineering Education.




Job–hunting? Here are a few current openings:





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COVER:  HOMELESSNESS—Are there engineering solutions?

FEATURE: AIRCRAFT—Electric commercial aircraft are still 25 years away, but aerospace engineers expect hybrid commuter planes, followed by all-electric two-seaters, to arrive a lot sooner.

FEATURE: CAREERS—A look at career-development programs for engineering students.





Applications are now being accepted for the first-of-its-kind GEM-ASEE Doctoral Engineering Research Showcase sponsored by The National GEM Consortium (GEM) and the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) January 22-23, 2018, at the Mayflower Hotel, Washington, DC. Doctoral students, postdoctoral fellows, and new faculty are invited to display their leading-edge technical research and connect with potential agency sponsors and academic employers.Registration fees: $50 for doctoral students and postdocs; $150 for new faculty. The deadline for applications is Friday, November 17. 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 next 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 rationale on 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 resumed publication with 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 sign up. Click here to advertise. Send content to Jennifer Pocock at j.pocock@asee.org.


ASEE is offering two two-week courses in the spring of 2018 for researchers and innovators who want to take their STEM education vision to the next level. The application period is now open. For more information click here.


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!




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