ASEE Connections

May 2015




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The percentage of full-time undergraduate female engineering students graduating with a degree in engineering has declined in most disciplines during the past decade. Although the proportion of graduates who are women has remained fairly constant in engineering overall over the last 10 years, discipline-level data reveal a different story. A comparison of ASEE Profiles Survey data drawn from the years 2005 and 2014 show that female students as a share of all full-time students who were awarded an engineering degree increased only in engineering (general), civil/environmental, and environmental engineering disciplines. The proportions either remained the same or declined in all other disciplines (as shown in the table above). The American Society for Engineering Education annually collects student enrollment and graduation data from over 360 engineering schools and departments that have at least one ABET-accredited program.







Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who chairs Energy and Natural Resources, introduced a package of 17 energy bills "as part of her effort to craft comprehensive energy legislation that can ultimately win broad support from Democrats and Republicans," CQ reports. The measures include an update and reauthorization of R&D on methane hydrates, a "vast energy resource"; coordination of all federal activities related to the "energy-water nexus"; and promotion of "hybrid micro-grid technologies, including renewable resources, for isolated communities . . . ." Murkowski is also planning on proposing lifting the ban on U.S. oil exports.


The House, in a 240-177 vote, recently passed the fiscal 2016 $35.4 billion Energy-Water spending bill, offering a $1.2 billion increase over current levels but $633 million less than President Obama requested, CQ reports. The measure still has to be merged with a Senate version in conference, but as passed by the House, would be vetoed. An Office of Management and Budget statement says it would, among other things, "put at risk U.S. competitiveness in new markets for clean energy industries such as advanced vehicles, advanced manufacturing, energy efficiency for homes and businesses, and domestic renewable energy such as wind, solar, and biomass." The White House also opposes any spending bill that adheres to sequester-level discretionary limits.





Engineering and art collaborations flourish, but which group is leading?

By Alice Daniel

Anyone who hears a ballerina describe the pain of dancing en pointe, or watches as she rips, sews, and re-glues the lining of her satin slippers to soften the assault, can see why the Dance Theater of Harlem found an ideal match at the City College of New York’s engineering school. Students and dancers will collaborate to minimize injuries and enhance performance. Is there a better design for their shoes? Is there an exercise device that would help with strengthening? “Students are thrilled about having this type of application for a design,” says engineering dean Gilda Barbarino. There’s room as well for jointly developed instruction, she says: “We as engineers understand the biomechanics of the body, but the dancers, they’re the ones using the movements. There’s a lot they understand intuitively.”

Such partnerships are sprouting around the country. From the University of Delaware, where engineering, art, and theater students collaborate on such senior design prototypes as a device for cardiopulmonary training, to the University of Utah’s program in Entertainment Arts and Engineering and Arizona State’s School of Arts, Media + Engineering, the idea of incorporating an A for arts into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) is gaining traction. CCNY’s fusion of engineering and dance has a precedent at Princeton, where Naomi Leonard, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, teamed up several years ago with dance professor Susan Marshall to incorporate the complex motion patterns of schools of fish and flocks of birds into choreography.

“I’ve always argued that engineering is an art form,” says William Best, an electrical and computer engineering professor at Lehigh University. “We use science and mathematics, but we’re artists. The space shuttle was designed by artists.” Best co-directs Lehigh’s integrated degree in engineering, arts, and sciences, known as IDEAS. “It’s kind of a 50/50 mix between Arts and Sciences and Engineering and it’s jointly run by both colleges,” he says. The IDEAS degree culminates in a senior project. Currently, one senior is working on making medical devices like cancer delivery ports and prosthetics less sterile looking so people will be more comfortable using them. Another student in mechanical engineering and art and design wants to design costumes for science fiction movies. He’s making a Godzilla using microprocessors for his project.

“By integrating the arts into the engineering program, it gets students away from the rigid nature of solving equations,” Best says. And because students are well versed in more than one area, employers tend to seek out IDEAS graduates, he adds. One student recently got an internship at Disney because he had both the technical sophistication of civil and structural engineering and the aesthetic vision of art and product design. “It has exceeded our wildest expectations,” says Best. Last year, 850 students applied; 65 were accepted for an incoming class of 30. Four classes have graduated.

The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) appears to have been the first to adopt the acronym STEAM. Believing that true innovation comes from combining disciplines, students and educators there hoped to make art and design a part of the national STEM education agenda. Shortly after RISD STEAM was initiated, nearby Brown University followed suit. That was in 2012. Now other schools, such as MIT, Yale, and Cornell, also have STEAM programs.

“We focus on being a resource for current students to collaborate with each other to bridge the gap between arts and sciences,” says Brown STEAM President Veronica Wu, who is herself walking the walk with a major in both materials engineering and visual arts. “It seems to me like the trend right now in engineering is towards hands-on labs, incorporating design principles into engineering.” Brown STEAM holds workshops and large events, such as the weekend-long Assistive Tech Makeathon co-sponsored by the SpeakYourMind Foundation in April 2014, in which students from Brown and RISD developed assistive technologies for people with disabilities. The design winner was Reach, a low-cost, intuitively controlled robotic hand.

Last year, RISD and Brown formed one of 20 collegiate teams in the 2014 Solar Decathlon Europe contest. As with the U.S. decathlon, sponsored by the Department of Energy, the challenge was to design and build an affordable and aesthetically pleasing net-zero solar-powered house from scratch. The team raised more than $750,000 in corporate support and designed the 800-square-foot Techstyle Haus, which lost to Italy’s Roma Tre University but drew a share of the 20,000 visitors to the decathlon site at Versailles, outside Paris. Brown STEAM is also working with some RISD graduates who design inflatable structures through their company, Pneuhaus. The plan is to make a STEAM pavilion. “We’ll have workshops there, meetings, potentially exhibits,” says Wu. “I can’t stress enough that having an art school so close to a STEM-based school has been really critical to our success.”

If the STEAM label is relatively new, it builds on a heritage stretching back at least to Leonardo Da Vinci. The National Science Foundation drew on that tradition two decades ago, sponsoring a Leadership in Science and Humanities program with the Department of Education and National Endowment for the Humanities. Among the projects funded was an experimental interdisciplinary course at the University of Virginia. Writing in the Journal of Engineering Education, the course’s designers noted that while “standard university curricula tend to compartmentalize engineering, humanities, and social sciences,” real-world engineering decisions “defy such compartmentalization.”

In 2001, when an alumnus donated a sizable art collection depicting working scenes to the Milwaukee School of Engineering, it became a catalyst for courses and programs synthesizing art and engineering. These range from ergonomics to a graduate civil engineering course in which students researched bridges featured in a photo exhibit.

“I am frankly a big believer in the STEAM movement,” the late Charles Vest, then president of the National Academy of Engineering, told a congressional hearing in 2013, arguing that visual and performing arts are “very much a part, in my opinion, of what has to happen at both K–12 and in undergraduate and even graduate education in our universities.”

Engineering and music have long operated in harmony, whether filling 17th-century cathedrals with the peals of pipe organs or replicating symphony hall acoustics within tiny 21st-century ear buds. At Union College in Schenectady, New York., engineering students can incorporate sound into their technical studies, and musicians can better understand their instruments. “I love working at the intersection of electrical engineering and music,” says Palma Catravas, who runs Phasor Lab, a reasearch laboratory in Union’s Peter Irving Wold Center that enables experiments at this interface. “It’s what I do. It’s my passion.”

“We have the means to characterize musical instruments using the tools of electrical engineering,” Catravas says. “It gives musicians a way to learn about their musical instrument that’s different from the typical approach. We offer a suite of techniques and tools not normally part of their traditional studies.” Working with vocalists, engineering students recorded a madrigal and then applied signal-processing techniques to include reverberation so it would sound like the choral groups were singing in the college’s Memorial Chapel. “We also recorded them singing in the actual venue,” Catravas said. “Then we played them our processed version and asked them to guess which was the actual recording.” In one class, she recalls, ECE students processed a short excerpt of a Palestrina composition so many times that they threatened to get up and perform it during the concert. “The projects that involve music as an input provide us with a way to teach fundamental engineering concepts,” said Catravas. “At the same time, it has the potential to instill an appreciation for the fine arts.”

Colin Turley, a physics major who minored in both electrical engineering and music at Union, used Lissajous figures to analyze and visualize musical intervals. “I developed a method for visualizing the intervals that make up various systems of musical temperament,” Turley said. “A lesser mission was to explore different forms of musical temperament.” His motivation was curiosity. He wanted to understand why the harmonic series and modern tuning did not agree exactly. “From there, I got into the topic of tuning and temperament. Mostly, I learned a lot about the history of musical temperament and how it affects the character and color of a work,” he said. “It also taught me about the limitations of modern tuning.” The educators behind Lehigh’s IDEAS contend that a melding of arts and sciences is the future of engineering. If so, engineering schools should be assuming a stronger leadership role in the STEAM movement, argues CCNY’s Barbarino. “One of my concerns is that the art community seems to be the big driver, and what are we as engineers doing?” she asks. Her question is en pointe.






What happens when you take the lecture out of the classroom and bring the homework in? More student engagement and deeper faculty interaction.

By Stephanie Butler Velegol, Sarah E. Zappe and Emily Mahoney

A traditional lecture-based classroom can result in bored or disengaged students who retain only some of the information presented. While the use of active learning in the classroom has been shown to increase learning gains, some activities can be time-consuming, reducing the time available for the instructor to cover technical material. How can faculty cover appropriate content while maintaining an active classroom?

One solution is to expose students to new concepts at home through online instructional materials, such as video modules, and then use class time to actively apply these new concepts. This has become known as the flipped (or inverted) model, a term originally introduced in 2000. Stephanie Butler Velegol has done just this with about 80 students per semester in an Introduction to Environmental Engineering class at Penn State University. During out-of-class time, students watch short videos that cover the technical material in the course. They then complete an online assessment that serves as a “gate check” before coming to class. Students use this online assessment to pose questions or identify areas of confusion. Velegol reviews students’ responses and then uses about 10 minutes of class time to address their specific questions. After that, the students are free to work on their “homework” problems. They work either alone or in groups, raising their hands when they have a question. Stephanie moves around the room answering their questions and teaching “just in time.” Stephanie will occasionally stop the class to address a common question within the class. Sometimes, instead of these problem-solving sessions, class time is used for brainstorming solutions to current environmental engineering challenges, listening to expert speakers, or going on field trips.

Velegol worked with Sarah E. Zappe in the Leonhard Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Education to develop an evaluation plan for examining the impact of the classroom flip. The Leonhard Center has worked with multiple faculty members in the College of Engineering in the past several years to develop and flip their courses.

Velegol and Zappe worked with Emily Mahoney, an undergraduate Schreyer Honors student at Penn State, to measure the impacts of the flipped classroom. They found that 77 percent of the students prefer this technique for three main reasons: (1) They enjoyed having the flexibility to learn the new concepts on their own time and in their own way, (2) They were able to review the lectures, which helped them focus more, and (3) they valued the interaction with the faculty and students during class time.

One student said: “I really like watching lectures out of class. I am able to watch them at my own pace and can rewind when I lose focus (which I often do). Also, working out problems in class helps me to understand the concepts that I learned out of class better, and it better prepares me for quizzes and exams.” The authors found that not only did the majority of the students watch the videos; over 65 percent reported re-watching the lectures. The students mainly re-watched the lectures to clear up misunderstandings or when preparing for the quiz or homework. Over 50 percent admitted that they re-watched the videos because they were distracted the first time they watched them.

Based on their research, Velegol, Mahoney, and Zappe have the following suggestions for faculty interested in flipping: (1) Keep the video segments less than 10 minutes, (2) review the material in class for less than 20 minutes, (3) give students time in class to work on real-life and relevant problems or projects that are traditionally done at home, and (4) provide at least weekly assessments to keep the students on track. These should include an online assessment before class time and homework and quizzes in class.

Stephanie Butler Velegol is an instructor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Penn State University, where Sarah E. Zappe is a research associate and director of assessment and instructional support in the Leonhard Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Education. Emily Mahoney earned a B.S. in civil engineering from Penn State and was the teaching intern for this course for four semesters. She currently works for Langan Engineering and Environmental Services.





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Joseph B. Franzini, Stanford Professor and Water Resources Expert

Joseph B. Franzini, Ph.D., P.E., F.ASCE, Professor Emeritus of Civil Engineering at Stanford University and an expert on fluid mechanics and water resources, passed away on April 15 in Palo Alto, Calif. He was 94.

Born in Las Vegas, N.M., Dr. Franzini earned B.S. and M.S. degrees in civil engineering from the California Institute of Technology. Serving in the Navy during World War II aboard the battleship USS New York, he saw action throughout the Pacific Theatre, including the Battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

He went on to earn a Ph.D. in civil engineering from Stanford. Hired to teach fluid mechanics and water resources engineering, he remained on the faculty for 36 years, rising to professor, and, for many years, associate head of Civil Engineering. He co-authored the widely used textbooks, Water Resources Engineering and Fluid Mechanics With Engineering Applications. For over 30 years, Dr. Franzini was also a special consultant to George S. Nolte and Associates, a civil engineering firm in San Jose, working on water projects in California and serving as a consultant to government agencies and private organizations in this country and abroad.

In 1994, Dr. Franzini received the Ray K. Linsley Award from the American Institute of Hydrology (AIH) honoring “the accomplishments of a giant in the field of hydrology.” A member of ASEE for many years, Dr. Franzini was also a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Geophysical Union, and AIH. Surviving are his wife, Gloria, adult children J.B., Robert, Marilyn, and Cheryl, five grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.






President Nick Altiero encourages all member to read and respond to the Board's “Strategic Doing” beta document. (Member login required.)


Share your thoughts on this issue by participating in a 5-minute survey sponsored by the NSF-funded National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation (Epicenter). The survey aims to identify attitudes, experiences and practices of engineering faculty, students and professionals. Your response will help inform educators and institutions on the potential contribution of entrepreneurship and innovation to engineering education, and the changing perception of these topics in engineering education over time.

As a respondent, you’ll receive a copy of the report documenting the results before they are available to the public.

Take the survey >>


Officers to be nominated for society-wide positions are: President-Elect, Vice President Member Affairs, and Chairs of Professional Interest Councils I, IV and V. Deadline is June 1.


ASEE’s Annual Conference is right around the corner. Watch a video of high school-aged contest winners we featured at the meeting last year (and will again this year!).





COVER STORY— ET: Long overshadowed by traditional engineering teaching and scholarship, engineering technology finds itself newly relevant, with its hands-on teaching gaining converts and advanced manufacturers needing its talent.


COVER SIDEBAR — SUSQUEHANNA SLUGGERS: An engineering tech program in Pennsylvania draws cheers from industry.

FEATURE ARTICLE — SAFE ZONES: ASEE’s 2014 conference included a series of workshops providing ways that engineering schools could create “safe zones” for students who consider themselves marginalized, particularly lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender individuals. Nearly a year later, what has been the impact?




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