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March 2015 Subscribe
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A Public Letter of Thanks from LSU College of Engineering

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The American Society for Engineering Education annually collects student enrollment and graduation data from over 360 engineering schools and departments that have ABET at least one accredited program. Undergraduate engineering is generally viewed as a field of study that requires students to fully invest their time in their program of study. This month's Databyte looks at the proportion of part-time/full-time students enrolled in an engineering program in 2013 by class. Not surprising, with full course loads and required sequence of courses, freshman and sophomore engineering classes have few part-time students, 3 percent and 4 percent respectively. The percent increases to 13 percent during the senior year.






Four senators -- Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.); Kelly Ayotte, (R-N.H).; and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) -- want a strategy to "incentivize the development of the Internet of Things in a way that maximizes the promise connected technologies hold to empower consumers, foster future economic growth, and improve our collective social well-being." They say accelerating the IoT's development should be a priority, but should occur in a way that "responsibly protects against misuse." The IoT, which connects billions of devices worldwide using sensors and software, has raised concern about hacking and violations of privacy. A report put out by Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) criticizes what it calls the auto industry's "alarmingly inconsistent and incomplete" security and privacy practices.


Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who chairs the Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science subcommittee, joined GOP House critics of the Obama administration's plan for two new institutes in the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation. The $150 million budgeted "is discretionary funding that the Department simply cannot afford," Shelby declared at a Feb. 26 hearing.


The research community may have to wait years for a champion with clout comparable to that of 4-foot-11 Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), who announced she'll retire at the end of 2016. From a state dependent on federal science funding, home to powerhouse universities, NASA facilities, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, she brought 30 years of seniority, a shrewd political sense, and a bulldozer personality to her fight for R&D appropriations.



III. A Public Letter of Thanks from LSU College of Engineering
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Largest planned gift in LSU’s history will benefit student athletes, facility improvements and mechanical engineering students.

The College of Engineering is fortunate to receive gifts in support of our students and research from alumni and donors. We work hard to recognize their support and give credit to everyone who endeavors to enhance our College through philanthropic support. Sometimes we receive gifts anonymously, for which we duly acknowledge within the confines of anonymity.

Recently we received a planned gift of such profound impact that, when realized, it will forever change the College, and more specifically the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, from an anonymous College of Engineering alumnus. This gift of $20 million is the largest single gift to a department at LSU and will forever alter the course of our College. Words alone cannot express our gratitude and appreciation. It is my sincere hope that our students, faculty and staff will exhibit the generosity bestowed upon LSU by this random act of kindness. May their actions forever be a bold reflection of the greatness of a single, selfless individual who had the wherewithal to make a transformational difference in our lives and our future.

I hope this letter reaches our anonymous donor and they are aware of our appreciation and gratitude.

Forever LSU!

Rick Koubek, Dean



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A Graduate Program Trains Engineering Leaders by Pushing Them Out of Their Comfort Zones

By Kathryn Masterson

A few weeks into Northeastern University’s graduate-level Gordon Engineering Leadership (GEL) program, students are summoned to an early morning meeting, but not told why. Upon arriving, they’re transported from Boston to Camp Edwards on Cape Cod for a daylong military exercise. In an unfamiliar, uncomfortable setting, thrown into teams with classmates they don’t know well, students gauge one another’s strengths and weaknesses while confronting such obstacles as how to move people and a payload across water using boards, ropes, and poles. “Nobody dies. They just get a little wet,” says Simon Pitts, director of the program.

The Leadership Reaction Course offers an early taste of the personal and psychological skills training that distinguishes the Gordon curriculum from other engineering graduate programs. It’s an opportunity for students to see class lectures come alive and face the type of decisions that, in the working world, could spell success or failure. “In that environment, it crystallizes what we’re teaching,” says Pitts.

While traditional programs tend to focus on engineering principles and technical and scientific subjects, Northeastern’s combines classic instruction with real-world experience and close collaboration with industry. The goal is to create engineers who have a sound foundation of engineering knowledge but also know how to motivate people and lead teams into a complex, hypercompetitive global marketplace. “

We’ve developed a cadre of people that can climb mountains,” says Michael Silevitch, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Northeastern who founded the GEL program and also directs Northeastern’s Center for Subsurface Sensing and Imaging Systems. GEL, the center, and the $500,000. National Academy of Engineering prize for educational innovation – won by Pitts and Silevitch in January – are all named for Bernard M. Gordon, the instrumentation pioneer known as the father of analog-to-digital conversion.

Pitts, who as a senior executive for Ford Motor Co. hired engineers all over the world, says a gap exists between what companies need from engineers to deliver products to market and what their education prepares them to do. The Gordon program works to fill that void. In so doing, Pitts says, it helps boost the performance of existing firms and start new ones, generating jobs.

Begun in 2007 with 10 students and now preparing for a class of 50, the program is built around 14 “essential qualities for successful engineering leaders” as shown by research and experience: initiative; negotiating and compromise; ability to connect across disciplines, skills, and cultures; communicating and advocacy; interpersonal skills; vision and “realizing the vision”; decision-making; responsibility and urgency to deliver; resourcefulness; ethical actions and integrity; and courage.

The majority of students, called fellows, come to Northeastern with three to five years of work experience, and many continue to work full time as they complete their degree. The leadership part is one year, and students without a graduate degree complete additional coursework to earn a master’s in a particular engineering discipline. Those who come with a graduate degree earn a certificate after one year.

GEL combines five elements: leadership capabilities, leadership labs, product development, scientific foundations, and an industry-sponsored Challenge Project. The fellows take two graduate-level classes: Leadership, and Sientific Principles of Engineering. The latter course, which can serve as a refresher in the various engineering disciplines, is important because engineer-leaders need to understand all types of engineering in order to lead teams outside their field, Pitts says. That way, they will know the right questions to ask when something isn’t working. At companies that manufacture complex devices, such scientific grounding gives GEL graduates an edge over graduates of master’s of business administration programs, the two professors say.

“These days, there’s nothing that’s just a mechanical system or just an electronic system,” Pitts says. “Everything is so well integrated. You have to deal with hardware, software, firmware, with manufacturing people, with purchasing people. So you have to have leaders that can lead technically outside of their discipline.”

All of a fellow’s work builds toward the final test — the Challenge Project. Done in lieu of a thesis, it is a real-world project that a company needs and wants. Fellows take an engineering product from start to finish, navigating bumps, setbacks, and challenges along the way. In the process, they assess their own capabilities and learn how to motivate others, even if they are not in a position of authority. When they give their final presentation, students describe both their product and the process they went through to develop it.

The individual Challenge Project cannot be “make work” that serves merely as a practice for students and is abandoned on graduation. Each needs to make a significant contribution to a company, increasing revenue, improving production, or developing something new. “If they [the companies] don’t take it and don’t use it, we failed,” Silevitch says. Mentoring is a key part of the process. During the Challenge Project, the fellow will work with three mentors: one from the leadership program, one faculty mentor in the fellow’s engineering specialty, and one from industry to guide the student in understanding the company’s needs and the current marketplace. Reaching to tackle a complex project does more than advance a fellow’s skills, Silevitch says: “If they are confident they can tackle this mountain, they are not afraid to tackle the next mountain and the next mountain.”

Character is important, too. In addition to market and customer focus and learning how to influence people, the GEL program emphasizes ethics and courage. That includes taking responsibility to prevent failure (including the kind that can hurt customers or ruin companies) and leading a life of purpose.

Fellow Michael Rogus, an engineer who specializes in ceramics and works for defense company L-3 Communications making space telescopes, came to the program expecting to gain the kind of leadership skills it would ordinarily take years of working in industry to acquire. What he hadn’t expected was his own personal transformation.

The faculty were always pushing the fellows out of their comfort zones, says Rogus, who completed the Gordon program in 2013 and is finishing his master’s degree in mechanical engineering. From the military exercise, which he describes as “awesome,” to assignments to get out into the community, he was pressed to do things he otherwise wouldn’t have tried. Sent to a tech group meeting, he ended up taking leadership positions with the New England Section of the American Ceramic Society. Group discussions about the importance of finding a mentor led him to become involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters.

“I am absolutely a different, more confident, well-rounded individual because of the Gordon Program,” Rogus says. If the record of GEL’s 145 graduates is any guide, his self-assurance has a sound basis. “Typically we see 50 percent of the cohort promoted within the first year after they participate in the program, rising to 75 percent after two years,” Pitts says. One graduate is CEO of his own firm.






Feedback Helps Students Perform Credibly in Their Discipline and in Industry

By Debra M. Gilbuena and Milo D. Koretsky

Stakeholders of undergraduate engineering programs widely view professional skills, such as teamwork and communication, as a critical aspect of an engineer’s job. With this recognition, ABET has incorporated professional skills as 6 of the 11 student outcomes in the engineering criteria, and many educators are seeking innovative ways to incorporate professional skills into the curriculum.

However, studies of professional skills are limited mostly to general decontextualized reflections from practitioners and educators about this aspect of their work. Such an approach has provided a comprehensive list of what might be considered professional skills, but there is limited understanding of the role of these skills in engineering project work, how they are embodied, or the type of feedback that best helps students develop these skills.

Our study sought to contribute to this understanding by gathering rich observational data as students engaged in an authentic, industrially situated engineering project. We described and analyzed verbal discourse between a coach and four senior-level student teams as the coach provided feedback, and among students as they worked in teams reflecting and acting on that feedback. To analyze the data, we used the construct of communities of practice. We considered three overlapping communities in which the participants engage: the discipline-based community of chemical engineering; the semiconductor industry community, specific to the industry in which the project is situated; and the student community.

In this study, approximately half the discussion between the coach and the student teams addressed professional skills, which included communication, documentation, teamwork, the economic impact of engineering solutions, and project management. Feedback on these skills was given by the coach and was generally in the context of technical aspects of the project. We found an interplay between the teams’ participation in professional skills activities and their participation in more technical activities.

Professional skills played a central role in the students’ enculturation process, both to the disciplinary community of chemical engineering and to the semiconductor industry community. Feedback helped students recognize how to use professional skills to represent themselves as legitimate members of both communities. The ways professional skills are embodied as participation in chemical engineering and participation in the semiconductor industry, while similar, have certain essential differences. For example, when one of the students, Carl, provided a response that the silicon wafers were “20 centimeters” in diameter, the coach corrected Carl with “200 millimeters.” The project is situated in the semiconductor industry, where engineers refer to wafer sizes in units of millimeters (or inches) but never in centimeters. While Carl would be considered correct from a disciplinary standpoint, his answer reveals a lack of credibility and legitimacy in the industrial community.

Educators should explicitly attend to both communities. If educators focus solely on disciplinary community activities and do not acknowledge industry-specific aspects, some students who have had internships or other experiences interacting with practicing engineers may focus on the differences between academics and the “real world” and not connect what they learn in class to applications in industry. They may come to believe that they will learn everything they need to know in industry and place diminished value on their education. Furthermore, feedback should cover students’ use of professional skills to reinforce their legitimacy in these communities.

The ways engineering educators integrate professional skills into their courses and the feedback they provide students help to determine students’ attitudes about these skills, how they participate in the activities involving these skills, and how central they consider these skills to be in engineering. When considering how to incorporate professional skills into engineering projects and courses, educators should recognize the critical interaction between developing professional and technical skills. Wherever possible, they should employ an integrative approach where students can connect their use of professional skills directly to their technical work, the engineering objectives they pursue, and their future careers.

Debra M. Gilbuena performed this research as a Ph.D. candidate and a postdoctoral scholar in the School of Chemical, Biological, and Environmental Engineering at Oregon State University, where Milo D. Koretsky is a professor. This article is based on “Feedback on Professional Skills as Enculturation into Communities of Practice” in the January 2015 issue of the
Journal of Engineering Education. The work was supported with NSF grant EEC1160353 and conducted in collaboration with co-authors Benjamin Sherrett, Edith Gummer, and Audrey Champagne.




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Every 10 years the capstone design community conducts a detailed census/survey to capture current practices within and across engineering capstone design programs.

The 2015 Capstone Design Survey is now open and will remain so until March 20, 2015. Please forward the link below to the capstone design point person(s) in your department/college and encourage them to participate. We hope to capture capstone design programs within engineering/technology departments as well as those that span multiple departments.

ASEE 2015 Northeast Section Conference New Deadlines

Paper Submission: Monday 3/23 8:00 am
Early Bird Registration: Monday 3/23
Student Poster Abstract Submission: Monday 3/23 8:00 am. Go to the conference website. Paper Submission Portal: (

Poster Guidelines:

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Women in Engineering Pro-Active Network (WEPAN) Change Leader Forum, June 9-11, Denver, Colo.

Join the national dialogue about the role of culture in building inclusive and diverse engineering education and work communities. Newcomers and experts alike from all sectors (science, engineering, technology, math, education, and social sciences) are invited to attend this Forum and contribute to increasing the participation of underrepresented groups in engineering. Details and Registration

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Features in the March-April Prism:

AFRICA: Historically, many African countries sent top students overseas to train in engineering and science. That’s now changing, and universities across the continent are expanding engineering programs and research.


Photo courtesy of Don Boroughs


ROADS: A university built its own road as a test-bed for transportation innovations.


STEAM: We look at schools that integrate arts into the science and engineering curriculum.

Read last month's issue of Prism magazine





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