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Bachelor Degrees Awarded by Discipline

ASEE collects data from Engineering schools, programs, and departments that have ABET accreditation and award bachelor degrees. This month’s databyte looks at bachelor degrees awarded, separated by engineering disciplines. The data provided to ASEE shows an increase in the overall graduation rates at engineering schools and institutions from 2008 to 2013. With the exception of Nuclear and Electrical engineering, there has been an increase in bachelor degrees awarded over the past five years from all engineering disciplines; with Petroleum Engineering showing the largest growth at 74 percent.






Most research agencies hold their own under the $1.01 trillion appropriations measure to fund the federal government -- except for the Department of Homeland Security -- through September 2015.Final passage of looked doubtful at times, with progressives led by Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and conservatives aligned with Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) denouncing different provisions. The White House lobbied in favor of passage even though it, too, found parts of the bill hard to swallow. Basic research overall suffers a small net loss in the package, according to an American Association for the Advancement of Science calculation. But at the Pentagon, basic research accounts increase 4.3 percent above FY 2014, with appropriators looking favorably on defense research sciences, university research initiatives, and industry-university centers; the Defense Threat Reduction Agency University Strategic Partnership; National Defense Education Program; Historically Black Colleges and Universities; and chemical and biological defense. The National Science Foundation roughly keeps pace with inflation, as does NASA's science. Agriculture R&D gets a raise, and the National Institutes of Health and Department of Energy Office of Science stay flat.


Brief instructions on how federal agencies are to spend money contained in the appropriations package are spelled out in a series of alphabetical explanations found on the House Rules Committee website under Bill Text. The National Science Foundation is encouraged to work with the administration's Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative "to establish a National Brain Observatory working group to determine how to use the data infrastructure of the NSF, the Department of Energy's national laboratory network, and other applicable agencies to help neuroscientists collect, standardize, manage, and analyze the large amounts of data that will result from research attempting to understand how the brain functions." House and Senate appropriators also agreed to provide NIST with tens of millions for cybersecurity, including: $15 million for a cybersecurity center of excellence; up to $60.7 million for R&D; $4 million for education, and $16.5 million for the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace. (Separately, Congress passed bipartisan cybersecurity legislation and sent it to the president.) Meanwhile, defense appropriators appear to be intrigued by how materials play into the "human-machine interface." They encouraged the Air Force Research Laboratory "to continue research into nano-bio manufacturing of materials and sensor devices that are capable of detecting biomarkers and other substances correlating to human body conditions such as stress, fatigue, and organ damage."


Congress also wants the National Institutes of Health to "develop a new approach with actionable steps to reduce the average age at which an investigator first obtains RO1 (Research Project Grant) funding," The plan should "include an analysis of the role of universities in this effort." Lawmakers also want an "NIH-wide approach . . . to rapidly improve the speed and validity of personalized preventive medicine through the convergence of technology and biomedical science." NIH should hold a forum with representatives of industry, academic engineers, and biomedical research organizations to work on this.




To the Barricades

Seeing RED, NSF Aims to Overthrow Outdated Curricula and Exclusionary Practices by ‘Revolutionizing’ Engineering Departments

By Mary Lord

No protest songs rallied the rebels, nor did voices rise in defiance. Yet the engineering educators who recently dialed in to discuss a new effort to overhaul undergraduate programs clearly sought to challenge the status quo. The revolution’s unlikely instigator: the National Science Foundation.

Federal research funds for institutional change? There is precedent. Over the past two decades, NSF grants have helped spur dramatic shifts in the undergraduate engineering experience, from revamped introductory courses that emphasize hands-on learning (Prism cover story, September 2011) to capstone design projects. On many campuses, however, the middle years remain a relentless slog through required theory-heavy coursework that prompts many students to bail. NSF’s new RED initiative – for Revolutionizing Engineering Departments – hopes to change that trajectory by creating up to 10 coherent, sustainable, four-year model programs that instill professional along with technical skills and prepare a diverse group of undergraduates, including community college transfers, for success as engineers.

Every insurrection has a tyrant to topple, and RED is no exception. “We’re overthrowing outdated curricula and pedagogy,” explains Donna Riley, program director for engineering education at NSF and the project’s coordinator. “But this isn’t your father’s curricular change program. It’s overthrowing old ways of doing business in departments and creating different reward structures that will facilitate the kinds of engineering education needed for the 21st century.”

Part of an NSF-wide initiative to improve undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, RED aims to improve the “professional formation of engineers” by enlisting entire departments in tackling cultural barriers that deter faculty and students from different backgrounds, including women and underrepresented minorities. The effort not only responds to “perennial calls for holistic engineers with a broad set of skills,” says Riley, but also seeks to address attrition, particularly in the sophomore year. That’s a “critical entry point” for students transitioning from two-year colleges, she notes, and can be a “jarring” experience for students whose introductory freshman courses emphasized hands-on learning.

ASEE’s retention data bear this out. While the 118 participating schools have seen a rising share of freshmen continue to sophomore year – 81.2 percent in 2011, compared with 78 percent a decade earlier – just over 70 percent advance to year three. Under a third – 30.9 percent for the class of 2009 – complete their degree in four years, with wide variation among groups. Some 15.6 percent of African-American engineering students graduate on time, for example, versus about 44 percent of Asians. A 2013 longitudinal study by the National Center for Education Statistics found the overall attrition rate for undergraduate engineering programs was 62 percent.

Despite its focus on four-year programs, RED isn’t limited to undergraduate education – or to traditional engineering disciplines. Computer science, informatics, and engineering technology departments can participate, for example. And while training faculty in active learning and other best teaching practices is a key focus, industry and K-12 partnerships, internships, promotion and tenure policies, graduate programs, and entrepreneurship all fall within the grant’s “pre-K through gray” scope, says Riley.

The $12 million RED program, which will award significant five-year grants to between five and 10 departments that would serve as national models, has another unique feature. Each department chair must serve as co-principal investigator with a social scientist. Collaborators may be engineering-education researchers and come from inside the college or another institution. But their job is to assess in real time if changes are really happening. Beyond helping to develop radically different four-year experiences that stress creativity, teamwork, and connections to professional practice, the combined research will generate knowledge about sustainable change in engineering education that can help transform universities nationwide. “Don’t imagine what you think we want, give us something that’s really going to be different,” Riley told participants in September’s RED kickoff webinar, cautioning against proposing spiral curricula or other modest reforms already in the works. “Is this something that can catch on and spread like wildfire to other departments?”

From their questions, engineering educators share some basic concerns. How can structural change occur if traditional promotion and tenure policies drive decisions? What happens if a department head departs mid-grant? One webinar participant with a looming ABET review worried about getting into trouble should statics, dynamics, and other standard technical courses disappear from the sophomore curriculum.

Riley acknowledged the challenges but cautioned against using accreditation to justify maintaining comfortable routines. Applicants, she said, face an “uphill battle” trying to convince NSF that “you can make radical change without changing the core curricula.” Instead, put everything on the table, create a focused vision, and then figure out the fastest way to move toward it. This isn’t NSF’s first shot over the engineering establishment’s bow, and RED applicants have a body of research to guide their proposals. Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology offers an example of how to overhaul the middle-years program. Working with Texas A&M as part of the NSF-sponsored Foundation Coalition in the mid-1990s, the Indiana school created a new sophomore engineering curriculum that used the concepts of conservation and accounting to teach dynamics, introductory thermodynamics, and fluid mechanics in a new, repackaged, cohesive sequence of courses. This curriculum was first taught in 1995, and it is currently required for all mechanical and biomedical engineering majors. Assessment results indicate that students develop “significantly better” problem-solving skills than those taking a traditional sophomore core, says Phillip Cornwell, Rose-Hulman’s vice president for academic affairs.

The Journal of Engineering Education devoted the entire April 2014 issue to “The Complexities of Transforming Engineering Higher Education.” Most of the research was funded by NSF. The recently published Cambridge Handbook of Engineering Education Research, reviewed in the September 2014 Prism, includes an examination of holistic curriculum design in the middle years as an antidote to “sophomore slump.”

NSF initiatives also have spawned inspiring mavericks that could serve as models. Riley cites the example of Carnegie Mellon University’s computer science department, which partnered with a social scientist to examine the admissions process for ways to raise female enrollment beyond a mere 7 percent. After the school dropped the requirement for previous programming experience, which favored male applicants, women quickly rose to comprise 42 percent of computer science majors, and they still maintain that robust share.

To glimpse the kind of radical reinvention envisioned by RED, don some snowshoes and head to Iron Range Engineering in Minnesota’s northeast woods. Launched in January 2010 to produce graduates able to think outside the disciplinary silo, the Minnesota State University, Mankato’s upper-division program eschews traditional classes. Instead, third- and fourth-year students — typically engineering graduates from local Itasca Community College — spend 40 hours a week working in teams with faculty and industry clients on semester-long, real-world design problems that develop both professional and technical competencies. Students also choose which skills they wish to emphasize, boosting motivation and completion rates. (They graduate with 28 credits in design, four times what the traditional capstone yields.) The program, which now includes two additional community colleges, is gathering data in five major studies, from diversity strategies to the change process, to assess its methods.

Iron Range Engineering’s project-based approach was a godsend for nontraditional students like Jeffrey Lange. The Minneapolis-St. Paul-area native always liked building things, but his passion for engineering didn’t stretch to traditional theory courses. He aced classes that interested him, stopped attending those that didn’t, and ultimately developed such extreme test anxiety that he couldn’t get out of his car to take the final. Lange took six years to complete his two-year degree and seemed destined for a similar ordeal after two years at the University of Minnesota, when he learned about Iron Range Engineering. “I started and shot out of the gate and never looked back,” says the 2013 honors graduate. Lange recalls a memorable senior project to determine if Grand Rapids, Minn., should build a hydroelectric dam and generator at the bottom of the hill below the city’s wastewater treatment plant. His team had to learn how energy is generated and apply the principles of hydraulics and fluid dynamics. “It was a lot of fun, and it took us a lot of work to figure things out,” says Lange. “If you have a practical approach, you’ll one, remember the theory, and two, have a reason to study.”

Iron Range Engineering also has transformed the way faculty, students, industry clients, and researchers collaborate to create “a culture that embraces continuous improvement,” says program co-director Ron Ulseth. “We pay a lot of attention to learning about learning,” he explains, describing how faculty get reports each semester from visiting engineers and engineering educators on how well their curricula delivered the desired professional, technical, and design knowledge. Students, who present portfolios showing how their work meets each of ABET’s 11 student outcomes plus three required by the program, also have “full license” to suggest changes for the upcoming semester, “and they do!” says Ulseth. Faculty members spend winter and summer breaks turning suggested improvements into practice, with a summit before school starts to adjust the syllabus. Even “fabulous” ideas, such as requiring daily learning journals, have “tanked horribly” when students don’t buy in, notes Ulseth. Still, because the process is not “person dependent,” change becomes part of the campus DNA.

A growing body of research indicates that Iron Range Engineering’s problem-based approach can boost learning, persistence, and professional skills far beyond current traditional undergraduate programs. The truest measure of success, however, may be the high rate at which graduates are snapped up by the paper, mining, energy, and other regional employers. The city of Grand Rapids, for example, was so impressed with the students’ hydroelectric feasibility study – which included alternative ways to finance the project – that it hired one of Jeffrey Lange’s teammates as electrical department manager upon graduation. Lange, who spent a year teaching and conducting research at his alma mater, recently landed a job as an electrical design engineer for a broad-based architectural firm in northeast Minnesota. He says he’d love to “pursue more engineering education” and get a master’s and doctorate. “But I don’t want to get back into a program that doesn’t push for changing the engineering [learning] environment.” For students like him, the RED revolution can’t come soon enough.





Beliefs that Motivate

Students who think they can become smarter will put in more effort and embrace challenges

By Glenda S. Stump, Jenefer Husman and Marcia Corby

Consider the following scenario that occurs all too frequently in a college classroom. Two students attend class regularly, submit assignments on time, and generally seem to be “doing well” from an instructor’s perspective. This rather ordinary state of affairs continues until both students receive a low score on the first exam. At this point, the students’ attitudes, approaches to the class, and eventual performance begin to diverge. Student #1 asks the instructor to suggest different study strategies that might help her learn the class material, stating, “This class is different from others I have taken. I know I can learn the material if I just change my approach and devote a little more time to learning.” Student #2 begins to miss lectures, and attends recitation sessions long enough to ask pointed questions about completing homework problems. She eventually drops the class, and when asked why she chose this route, she responds, “I am just not good at the subject.” Why do these two students differ so significantly?

Carol Dweck, a Stanford University psychologist, suggests that these students’ behaviors are motivated by their beliefs about the nature of intelligence. Dweck describes these beliefs as being either incremental or entity. Students with incremental views of intelligence believe that intelligence is malleable and can be increased with sufficient effort. These students focus on increasing their knowledge; they view exertion of effort as a positive behavior and often seek to improve their ability by selecting challenging activities and applying appropriate effort to learn. When faced with failure or setbacks, they attribute their difficulties to ineffective strategies or effort, and they vow to work harder. Conversely, students with entity views believe that intelligence is an innate, fixed quality, and that expenditure of effort means they must lack sufficient ability.

Consequently, students with entity beliefs worry about having enough intelligence and focus on confirming or proving their ability relative to others. They often choose easier tasks to preserve their high performance status, exert less effort to learn, and attribute failure or setbacks to a lack of intelligence.

Understanding the relationship between students’ beliefs and their approaches to learning can inform efforts to improve retention and success in engineering programs. Our study examined the extent of entity or incremental beliefs in a sample of 377 engineering students at a large public university. We also examined the relationship between these beliefs and students’ active learning strategies (collaboration and knowledge-building behaviors), self-efficacy (confidence in the ability to learn course material and do well in the course), and achievement. We collected data via surveys that students completed either online or in the classroom.

Our results showed that, overall, incremental beliefs were stronger than entity beliefs. Students’ incremental beliefs were positively related to collaboration and knowledge-building behaviors, whereas entity beliefs were negatively related to them. Self-efficacy, reported use of collaboration, and incremental beliefs about intelligence predicted students’ reported use of knowledge-building behaviors. Contrary to prior findings by Dweck, these critical motivational beliefs did not predict course grades. Our results demonstrate that identifying these motivational beliefs can help us understand individual students’ learning efforts. The results also suggest that engineering instructors should support incremental views of intelligence among their students. Praise or feedback that emphasizes the results of effort and de-emphasizes natural or innate ability is an important means to help students focus on events over which they have control. Other means, such as providing examples of personal experiences or other students’ experiences in which increased effort led to successful learning, and avoiding practices that cause students to compare themselves with others, such as posting exam grades, are also helpful. These simple strategies can help students focus on behaviors that promote their learning.

Glenda S. Stump is a research assistant professor in the Learning Sciences Institute’s Chi Learning & Cognition Lab at Arizona State University, where Jenefer Husman is an associate professor in the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics and director of education for the QESST Engineering Research Center. Marcia Corby is an instructor of mathematics at Phoenix College. This article was adapted from “Engineering Students’ Intelligence Beliefs and Learning” in the July 2014 issue of the Journal of Engineering Education. This work was supported by NSF grant REC-0546856.




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The section annually recognizes an outstanding engineering or engineering technology educator from the section with a Distinguished Teaching Award. This individual is then nominated by the section for ASEE's National Outstanding Teaching Medal. The section award, presented at the spring meeting, consists of a $500 honorarium and a certificate of recognition. The awards chair is Paul Butler.


A playlist of videos from the Engineering Technology Leadership Institute includes a short testimonial video, two panels, and Greg Pearson of the National Academy of Engineering.



Leaders at NSF and the Navy Discuss the Future of Engineering

Watch interviews with NSF Assistant Director for Engineering Pramod Khargonekar, who talks about exciting NSF projects and opportunities for ASEE members, and Rear Admiral David Johnson, who discusses the importance of technology to the U.S. Navy and where naval research is headed. The videos are part of ASEE’s Advanced Research Monitor Interview Series







How climate change is altering naval engineering design and teaching.


What we don’t know about the engineering career pathway.


Turning small robots into a teaching tool.

Read last month's issue of Prism magazine





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