ASEE Connections

July 2015




In This Issue: Products & Programs

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Marquette University wins 2015 NCEES Engineering Award


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Engineering Enrollment Growth Averages 4 Percent Per Year

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. The data provided to ASEE over the years show that undergraduate enrollment has grown at an average annual rate of 4 percent in the US engineering schools between 2005 and 2014. However, the rate of growth varied across disciplines. While petroleum engineering, civil and environmental engineering, and environmental engineering grew at an average annual rate of more than 10 percent, architectural engineering, engineering science, and engineering physics showed negative growth. The average rate of growth in electrical engineering was found to be zero. Enrollment in computer science (8 percent) has grown at much higher rate than that in computer engineering (2 percent).






Higher education policy may not be one of the defining issues of the upcoming 2016 presidential campaign, but it is an area that some GOP hopefuls are already mining for votes. Days before he officially declared his candidacy earlier this month, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a state budget that cut $250 million in state funding for the University of Wisconsin, and also gutted the college tenure system. In making the move, which will likely appeal to conservative primary voters, Walker said that “maybe it’s time for faculty and staff to start thinking about teaching more classes and doing more work.” Meanwhile, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. -- who, along with Walker, is one of 15 announced GOP candidates -- called for taking apart “the cartel of existing colleges and universities” that force students deep into debt but give them no strong career options. Rubio said “timid tweaks” were no good, and that a “holistic overhaul” was needed. He called for a graduated loan repayment system that would allow low earners more time than higher earners to repay their loans. The New York Times noted that in fact, an income-based repayment schedule already exists. Rubio would also allow students to use private investors to help cover tuition costs. And he called for a new accreditation system that would boost “low-cost, innovative providers.”


A new Environmental Protection Agency rule that becomes final next month would require states to formulate their own plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has urged governors to ignore the rule to gum up the EPA’s efforts and force a law suit. And according to The Hill newspaper, Oklahoma’s Republican governor, Mary Fallin, has told state agencies not to comply with the rule. Five other governors from conservative states have indicated that they, too, might ignore the rule if it’s not overhauled to their liking. But the plan’s supporters tell the newspaper that, given that so far only Oklahoma has fully opted to defy the rule, it’s a protest movement that doesn’t seem to be gaining any traction. An executive at the Natural Resources Defense Council told The Hill that “it hasn’t gotten much pickup,” mainly because most governors know that their states won’t benefit from simply ignoring the rule.



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$25,000 grand prize will be used to support its Engineering Without Borders chapter

Students from the Marquette University Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering, with the help of licensed faculty and professional engineers, won the $25,000 NCEES Engineering Award for their efforts to provide a safe and reliable method of crossing Guatemala’s Rio Pasaguay near the Mayan community of Sechum. The winning project, which included the design and construction of a vehicle bridge, now provides access to education, markets, and healthcare for three rural communities.

The NCEES Engineering Award is awarded each year to college programs that connect students, faculty, and professional engineers in collaborative projects. “It’s never too early to get ‘real’ and interact with professional engineers and the public. When students complete these types of projects, they are forced out of their comfort zones and have to develop and use skills that an engineer needs,” said NCEES Engineering Award jury chair Michelle Rambo-Roddenberry, Ph.D., P.E. “Being part of an open-ended challenge, under the direction of mentor engineers and faculty, is a great way to transition from textbook problems to messy, challenging ones that aren’t as clearly defined and take teamwork to solve.”

An 11-member jury selected this year’s winners, which also includes five $7,500 awards. The jury was composed of engineering deans, representatives from ABET, state engineering licensing boards, and engineering-related societies. Marquette University plans to use its $25,000 grand prize to support its Engineers Without Borders chapter. With no restrictions on how programs can spend the prize money, past award winners have chosen to
• Send students to conferences
• Provide travel expenses for similar projects
• Purchase equipment for department labs
• Fund future humanitarian engineering projects

Looking to 2016

EAC/ABET-accredited programs from all engineering disciplines are invited to compete for the 2016 awards by submitting projects that integrate professional practice and education. Learn more about the NCEES Engineering Award project ideas, evaluation criteria, and more at







Simulations of natural phenomena -- once the preserve of elite researchers -- can now be performed on an iPad.


By Rosemarie D. Wesson, with Victor Ugaz

Computational simulations have become indispensable tools in science and engineering. They help us understand fundamental physical phenomena across a broad range of length and time scales and allow us to “see” relationships between complex processes and systems. They also enable us to make predictions in settings where our ability to perform experiments is limited or even nonexistent. Such benefits make simulations and games valuable as educational tools. Using them, learners can see and interact with representations of natural phenomena that would otherwise be impossible to observe and start to understand how those phenomena work.

However, many simulation tools require a level of technical knowledge and equipment that put them out of reach of most undergraduate or high school students. For example, scientists routinely use Brownian dynamics, Monte Carlo, and molecular dynamics approaches to understand the nanoscale phenomena governing how molecules behave. But this important toolbox has historically been available only to a small and exclusive community of researchers possessing high-level computing resources and special expertise.

That’s about to change. Widespread adoption of smartphone and tablet computing devices offers incredible potential to make advanced simulation tools accessible to a broader audience. Apps like Atoms in Motion, for instance, use molecular dynamics to bring the fundamental phenomena governing interactions between atoms to life in a colorful and interactive way.

Recently, Victor Ugaz and graduate student Nan Shi at Texas A&M University have shown how the physics engine that powers popular video games like Angry Birds can be harnessed as a platform to perform complex simulations involving long chain molecules. This approach yields an order-of-magnitude increase in computational efficiency, making it possible for the first time to perform Brownian dynamics simulations of coarse-grained (bead-spring model) polymer transport on ordinary tablet computing devices like the Apple iPad. Video game technology itself captures users’ interest, thereby attracting a broader audience to molecular simulation tools.

In addition to enabling quantitatively accurate simulations, the tablet-based format introduces the opportunity to reimagine how users interact with simulations by employing familiar touch-screen gestures. Instead of the conventional paradigm relying on batch input files, parameters can now be changed using on-screen sliders and buttons that allow users to see the effects instantly. This nearly infinite ability to change parameters and see results in real time places an incredibly sophisticated toolbox — one currently available only to a select few research scientists — in the palm of anyone’s hand.

This new generation of simulation apps exploits the interactivity and scalability of the tablet-based format to make a fundamental nano-scale toolbox accessible to a broad audience. Researchers, students, and the general public can gain a working knowledge of these exciting technologies not widely encountered outside specialized graduate-level coursework. With the use of Ugaz’s app, students in a science class, for example, could run their own simulations, pool the results via crowdsourcing, and obtain statistics revealing how individual realizations combine to govern collective phenomena. Accuracy is improved with more realizations, making this approach ideal for stimulating engagement in large classes.

Simulation technologies are already ubiquitous in science and engineering practice, but their potential to catalyze a similar transformation in STEM education is only beginning to be unlocked. The pervasive adoption of mobile computing devices like smartphones and tablets is breaking down historical barriers imposed by limited availability of computing resources. When combined with recent transformations in education toward interactive, blended-learning classroom formats, the time has never been better for advanced simulation tools to make the jump from the research lab to the mainstream.

Rosemarie D. Wesson, Ph.D., P.E., is a program director in the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Engineering and an adjunct professor of chemical engineering at the University of Maryland, College Park. Victor Ugaz is an associate professor of chemical engineering at Texas A&M University.







Students link their success with a future in engineering.


By Rebecca A. Atadero, Karen E. Rambo-Hernandez, Meena M. Balgopal

Projects are often used in engineering education, particularly in freshman cornerstone and senior capstone design classes. Projects have been touted as a way to allow students to develop professional skills: to work in teams, communicate their findings and designs, and learn independently. In this study we investigated how the use of projects can help students gain engineering content knowledge (and traditional analytical skills) and how projects might affect students’ intentions to stay in their engineering major.

We conducted our study in statics because it is an engineering mechanics course typically taught through lectures during students’ second year, a critical time for retention. One section of statics was taught through lectures and the integration of group design projects, while a comparison section received the same content through lectures only. Students in the project section worked in teams of three to five people, primarily outside of class, to complete three design projects: building a device to raise a flag using basic principles of equilibrium, constructing a bridge and analyzing it as a truss or beam, and using friction to their advantage to pull a stuffed school mascot to the top of a ramp. Students in both sections completed the Concept Assessment Tool for Statics and a survey, including variables related to their development as an engineer, at the beginning and end of the semester.

As the theoretical framework for this study, we used Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT). This theory seeks to explain how people become interested in, make choices about, and ultimately perform in careers and majors. SCCT states that individuals’ beliefs in their ability to complete a specific action (self-efficacy) affect their beliefs about the consequences if they do complete the action (outcome expectations), and that self-efficacy and outcome expectations together influence the goals students set for themselves. In particular, if students believe they have the ability to complete engineering tasks successfully and they expect positive consequences when they complete those actions, they will set goals to stay in engineering. By contrast, if students do not think they are able to complete engineering tasks, or they do not expect good consequences when they do, they will not set goals to stay in engineering.

We found that while students in both sections showed similar gains in content knowledge, students who had participated in projects connected their perceived ability to perform engineering work with their outcome expectations about engineering. As expected based on SCCT, perceived ability and outcome expectations together predicted these students’ intentions to stay in engineering: The belief “I have the ability” led to the belief “Putting forth the effort will be worthwhile,” which in turn led to the goal “I will become an engineer.” In contrast, students in the lecture-only section did not connect their perceived ability to do engineering with the outcomes they would experience as an engineer. In other words, what these students thought about their ability to be an engineer did not influence their expectations about what being an engineer would mean. Thus, the theoretical model for career development held only for the project students, not for the lecture-only students.

This study showed that group design projects positively influence how students develop into engineers. Students who did not work on projects lost momentum in their development into engineers. While many engineering programs attempt to use extra-curricular programs to support the retention of students, our study showed that group design projects in required second-year courses can also help retain students in engineering.

Rebecca A. Atadero is an assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Colorado State University. Karen E. Rambo-Hernandez is an assistant professor in the College of Education and Human Services in the Department of Learning Sciences and Human Development at West Virginia University. Meena M. Balgopal is an associate professor at Colorado State University in the School of Education and the Graduate Degree Program in Ecology. This article is excerpted from “Using Social Cognitive Career Theory to Assess Student Outcomes of Group Design Projects in Statics” in the January 2015 Journal of Engineering Education, based on work supported by the National Science Foundation Grant 1137023.





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Coming in late summer: an all-new eGFI (Engineering, Go For It), ASEE's popular, award-winning magazine for middle and high school students. Order copies of eGFI here.


Former ASEE Board member Stephanie Farrell, professor of chemical engineering at Rowan University, is the principal PI on a $300,000 National Science Foundation EArly-concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) project, "Promoting LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) Equality in Engineering through Virtual Communities of Practice.” Using face-to-face and online training, coupled with an online community of practice, the project aims to "build a network of LGBTQ-affirming faculty who are aware of strategies to foster an inclusive environment and are empowered to advance LGBTQ equality in their departments." Co-PIs are Rocio Chavela Guerra, ASEE's director of Education & Career Development; ASEE Board member Adrienne Minerick, professor of chemical engineering and an associate dean at Michigan Tech; and sociologists Tom Waidzunas (Temple University) and Erin Cech (Rice University).


The videos competing for the People’s Choice Award in the Engineering for You 2 (E4U2) Video Contest have been selected by the E4U2 judges committee. Watch and vote for your favorite by visiting the E4U2 site: The videos can also be found on the NAE YouTube channel under the “Engineering for You 2 People’s Choice” playlist. The winner of the People’s Choice Award will be determined by the number of YouTube “likes” a video receives between January 5, 2015, 12:01 a.m. EST and August 3, 2015, 12:00 p.m. EDT, and will be awarded a $5,000 prize. All the E4U2 winning videos (including People’s Choice Award, Best Overall, and Category Winners) will be announced in October 2015 at the 2015 NAE Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. Questions? Email




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