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ASEE Connections

July 2019





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By Charles M. Stuppard

The graphics below, drawing on 2018 ASEE data, compare the percentage of degrees awarded to underrepresented minorities (URMs) in engineering programs across the country. Underrepresented minorities are those who identify as African-American or Black, Hispanic/ Latinx, American-Indian/ Alaska Native, or Native Hawaiian/ Other Pacific Islander.

Among all graduates in 2018, 4.7% of degrees were awarded to URMs. Table 1 shows the median for each region and the respective breakdown by institution type. The total regional median is in line with the doctoral median, since most of the institutions with engineering programs are advanced research institutions. The Southwest Region had the highest percentage of URM graduates at 7.4%. When viewing the baccalaureate figures, it is important to note that the Mideast Region has six institutions, while none of the other regions has more than 3 eligible institutions.

Table 1: Median Percentage of URM graduates

Figure 1, below, shows the percentage of URMs by region and is further broken down by institution type. Figure 2 shows the additional regional breakdown by type. The Southwest Region had the most variance while the Southeast Region had the most institutions with at least 20% URM graduates.


Figure 1. Percentage of Underrepresented Minorities by Region, 2018


Figure 2. Percentage of Underrepresented Minorities by Region and Type, 2018



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Combining art with engineering is a good way to prepare students for jobs in a fast-growing industry while teaching them how to work in diverse teams. That’s the case made by a paper presented at ASEE’s Pacific Southwest Section Meeting in April by academics at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Their paper outlines a new cross-disciplinary minor that Cal Poly launched in fall 2016 that blends art and computer science. The thinking behind the Computing for the Interactive Arts (CIA) minor is the need to prepare both art-and-design and computer-science students for jobs in the burgeoning interactive entertainment industry. Another goal of the minor is to create a more varied pool of students that is capable of forming diverse teams for problem-solving tasks, potentially bridging the gender gap that separate the two disciplines. On average only 24 percent of Cal Poly computer-science majors are female, while men comprise only 26 percent of art-and-design majors.

The CIA minor’s curriculum works to create a cross-disciplinary, collaborative environment in which art-and-design students incorporate coding and algorithmic thinking into their creative works, while computer-science students apply the principles and methodologies of design thinking to visual applications. The minor mainly uses existing art-and-design and computer-science courses, but also includes a two-quarter-long capstone project in which teams of students from mixed educational backgrounds work on a final creative-technical project. Projects so far have included virtual-reality experiences, mixed reality, and traditional video games. So far, 27 students have completed the capstone class over three cohorts averaging 11 students each. Of the students who have declared the minor, 69 percent are female. Surveys of students who finished the course found a majority think it increased both their technical and creative skills. And 75 percent of the minor’s graduates are now working in a technical industry. (LINK: https://peer.asee.org/a-cross-disciplinary-minor-to-engage-student-s-creativity-and-engineering-skills)



The argument for homework is strong. Students practice what they learned in class, which helps them better understand the lessons. Studies have shown that if homework is graded and students receive feedback, it can improve their grades by 30 percent. But for many engineering courses, students can now easily find the solutions to homework questions online. While many students use these solution manuals as study guides, some just copy the answers, which means they’re probably not learning anything. One way to get around the problem is to create customized homework. But that’s a time-consuming process for instructors, and eventually even those solutions tend to find their way online.

Now, academics at California State University, Los Angeles, have come up with a new strategy that they say works: a self-assessment-based homework model. The researchers outlined the model in a paper presented last April at ASEE’s Pacific Southwest Section Meeting. Once students finish a homework assignment, they must then correct it by using the solutions and then assess their performance using autopsies, or critical examinations, designed by the instructor. The autopsy questions are written to determine if students truly understood the solutions and to get a better sense of the obstacle students are encountering. The paper points out several advantages of the method: instructors can quickly scan students’ corrections to gauge how much they’ve learned; the autopsies can tell instructors why students say they they’re are making mistakes; by correcting their own work and doing the autopsies, students engage in deeper learning of the subjects. The model was tested on 39 students who took the Control of Mechanical System course, an upper-division, mechanical-engineering elective. One group of students used the self-assessment systems; the other was given traditional homework assignments. Overall, those in the self-assessment group received higher scores in both their mid-term and final exams. (LINK: https://peer.asee.org/a-self-assessment-based-homework-model)


In any course, some concepts are harder for students to grasp than others, and these are typically called muddy points, or MPs. Students can point them out on course websites or in emails. Instructors of the Medical Electronics course at the University of Southern California have worked out a method to address them. They ferret out MPs from student questions and from noting which problems on quizzes generate the largest number of incorrect answers. The course uses a flipped classroom approach: In advance of classes, students watch video lessons, which are used for group problem-solving. After each topic is covered, students are quizzed, and usually there are six to seven quizzes a semester. In an effort to help students better understand the MPs unearthed from questions and quizzes, the instructors wanted to find out if short (3-5 minutes) narrated webcasts for each troublesome problem could make those points clearer to students. According to a paper presented at ASEE’s Pacific Southwest Section Meeting last April by Jean-Michel Maarek, a professor of engineering practice at USC, the technique works. The webcasts, posted on a learning management system, each offer a conceptual approach that’s contrasted to the student mistakes, as well as a numerical solution. The online system keeps track of how many students watch the MP webcasts. In a recent semester, the instructors produced 14 webcasts, 11 of which were presented before the spring break, and 65 percent of students watched them. The three webcasts posted after the break were viewed by 42 percent of students. Students who watched 10 or more webcasts had significantly higher scores on their midterm and final exams than did students who viewed four or fewer of them. The high level of student viewership the videos attracted and the better exam scores they helped achieve justified the amount of work put into making them, Maarek writes. “We conclude that MP webcasts are useful learning complements that help students clarify difficult concepts and create a permanent record enriched by computer simulations and visualization.” (LINK: https://peer.asee.org/benefits-of-webcasts-muddy-points).






The engineering schools around greater Boston have long had a shared mission of supporting STEM education for the region’s K-12 students. Toward that goal, Tufts University’s School of Engineering last month hosted a meeting of deans and educators from seven other area colleges and universities, including Boston and Harvard universities, MIT, Olin College and UMass-Lowell. The discussions focused on ways to make STEM education more accessible and relevant, and how better to reach students in underserved and underrepresented populations. Merredith Portsmore, director of Tufts’ Center for Engineering Education and Outreach (CEEO), gave an overview of the center’s efforts to integrate engineering into K-12 education through outreach, products, research and workshops. She told the group: “Children are budding engineers, and teachers are an integral part of the process to foster children’s curiosity about engineering. Our center brings research to practice and practice to research.” Portsmore highlighted several CEEO programs, including its Bridge to Engineering Success at Tufts (BEST), a six-week summer program for incoming engineering freshmen. MIT representatives explained the university’s The Initiative for Learning and Teaching (TILT) program, which expands MIT’s “hands-on, minds-on” learning approach to K-12 students and teachers via the development of new technologies, services and curricula. And Northwestern University participants explained their efforts to reach a more diverse cohort of students and teachers with multi-week after-school and daylong summer STEM programs.



Vanderbilt University’s Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS) has worked with similar centers at Tulane University and the University of Georgia to develop a four-year series of training courses aimed at helping K-12 science teachers improve their skills in teaching students about environmental issues, including climate change. The focus is on helping STEM teachers and students better understand how environmental issues in Latin America can affect the world. The Latin American context is important, CLAS says, because the United States is closely connected to the region through trade, migration, and shared history. Moreover, many of these teachers have increasing numbers of students from Central America in their classrooms, and they’re keen to learn more about the history, cultures, and current issues of those countries. The first of the four-day training sessions took place last month at Vanderbilt. CLAS offered a highly subsidized registration fee and travel scholarships, and that resulted in a diverse group of teachers from 13 states attending. The emphasis was on deforestation, water access, environmental policies and sustainability in Latin America. The attendees heard lectures from specialists at Vanderbilt, the universities of Georgia and Oregon, and Texas State University and also engaged in hands-on activities. They discussed curriculum-development strategies to help the teachers take what they learned back to their classrooms. In one lecture, for example, the teachers were told how drug trafficking contributes to deforestation, and they were urged to think critically about the factors driving caravans of migrants from Central America to the U.S. Many migrants, for instance, are escaping droughts caused by climate change.





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Date and Time: September 11, 2019, 11:00 AM - 12:00 PM, ET
Cost : All ASEE Members—Free, Non-members—$50
From 2008 to 2017, women comprised less than 20% of faculty at the top U.S. engineering schools.

In the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering, women now occupy half of the top faculty-leadership roles, including department chairs, associate deans, and executive committee members. In this webinar, inspired by the May 2019 Chronicle of Education article “An Engineering School with Half of Its Leadership Female? How Did That Happen?” University of Michigan’s Alec Gallimore (Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering) and Jennifer Linderman (Professor of Chemical Engineering and Director of the ADVANCE Program) will explore four key approaches used at Michigan Engineering to build the female leadership pool and offer practical insights for other leaders who seek similar success.


Click on this link and learn how to access on-demand ASEE webinars covering multiple topics.





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