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ASEE Connections

July 2016




In This Issue: Products & Programs
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This month’s databyte focuses on changes in funding sources for engineering and engineering technology students from 2011-2015. Research Assistantship positions declined slightly (-3%) from 2011-2015 while both Fellowships (8%) and Teaching Assistantships (20%) grew. The data for these graphs are collected from ASEE’s Profiles of Engineering and Engineering Technology Colleges survey. ASEE annually collects data from one hundred engineering technology schools, programs and departments.



II. 2016 NCEES Engineering Award
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The University of Nebraska–Lincoln wins 2016 NCEES Engineering Award
$25,000 grand prize will be used to improve the access to and quality of communication technologies

Students from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Charles W. Durham School of Architectural Engineering and Construction, with the help of licensed faculty and professional engineers, won the $25,000 NCEES Engineering Award for their submission, 888 Boylston Street-Interdisciplinary Team Design. The team designed a proposed 17-story mixed-use high-rise building; the main guideline was for the building to be energy efficient according to the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers standards.

The NCEES Engineering Award is awarded each year to college programs that connect students, faculty, and professional engineers in collaborative projects. “The NCEES Engineering Award process is an academic experience that students can have, which gives them true hands-on collaborative communication with professional engineers,” said NCEES Engineering Award jury member and Deputy Executive Director of the National GEM Consortium, Michael Smith, D. Eng. “The type of team development that the students go through, the type of skills they have to learn, being able to collaborate with multidiscipline students and professionals and, again, being able to really engage with professional engineers who can teach them things that they won’t learn in the classroom, I think, creates an advantage for those students.”

A jury selected this year’s winners, which also includes five $7,500 awards. The jury was composed of engineering deans, members of state engineering licensing boards, and representatives from several engineering-related societies.

The University of Nebraska–Lincoln plans to use its $25,000 grand prize to improve the access and quality of communication technologies allowing students to connect with mentors and evaluators remotely. 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 2017
EAC/ABET-accredited programs from all engineering disciplines are invited to compete for the 2017 awards by submitting projects that integrate professional practice and education. Learn more about the NCEES Engineering Award project ideas, evaluation criteria, and more at ncees.org/award.





During the Democratic primary, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders consistently ran much stronger among young voters than did his rival, Hillary Clinton. But now that Clinton has clinched the nomination, she’s hoping to woo those Millennial voters. Toward that goal, she has taken up a variation on Sanders’ pledge of free tuition at public colleges. Her announcement got a quick thumbs up from Sanders, who called it a “very bold initiative,” and the result of negotiations between his and Clinton’s camps. Clinton’s plan would drop tuition at in-state public colleges and universities for families earning no more than $125,000. Sanders had campaigned on making tuition free for all students. States that get the federal funds to cover in-state tuition would have to put up some matching funds, under the plan. Many states have made big cuts in funding to higher education, which has led to skyrocketing tuitions. So, education policymakers generally like the idea. The Clinton campaign says it would cost $350 billion over 10 years and would be funded by closing tax loopholes on high-earners. But USA Today notes that some experts worry about unexpected side effects, with one telling the paper that free tuition should be tied to performance to keep students from slacking off. Students should be required to attend a certain number of classes and earn a minimum GPA, he says. But on the plus side, a professor told the paper that by deeply lowering student debt, the plan could greatly boost entrepreneurship and home sales. Without the burden of big debts, more grads may opt to take the risk of starting businesses, he says, and many others may no longer feel forced to stay on the sidelines of the housing market.



In 2012, President Obama created the Presidential Innovation Fellows Program. It yearly selects a number of tech industry workers and brings them to Washington and places them in various government agencies for short stints. Obama said the goal was to “help build a government that’s as modern, as innovative and as engaging as our incredible tech sector is.” And it’s proved so popular that now a top GOP lawmaker wants to protect it with the force of law, according to The Hill newspaper. Since it began, the Government Services Administration-run program has brought around 100 fellows to D.C., recruiting them from a wide mix of companies, including Google, Shutterstock and Weather Underground. Post-fellowship, some of the fellows have stayed in Washington to become chief technology officers at federal agencies, and others continue to act as policy advisers. The president signed an executive order last year to make it a permanent program, but a future administration could nix it. So House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is promoting a bill that would put the force of law behind the program, the paper says. His bill would keep the program at GSA and create a director to select fellows and an advisory board to recommend priorities. It would not cap the number of fellows selected each year, but would require that they serve between six months and two years..




The Internet and the Classroom

It’s up to educators to make sure instant access to knowledge complements teaching.

By Debbie Chachra

The organization of universities, courses, and learning experiences has largely been shaped by a world in which access to information is difficult. I’m writing this in Cambridge, England, where the university traces its founding to a group of students who migrated from Oxford in 1209. Since then, it’s been a community of scholars and documents—concentrating knowledge through the spoken word and on paper. For most of this time, in order to access this fount of information effectively, you had to be at the university itself.

The college where I teach, near Cambridge, Massachusetts, is newer than wine served at some University of Cambridge college dinners. Founded in 1997, it is part of a global network of scholars that was facilitated first by the printing press, then by worldwide postal services, and now by the next great revolution in access to information.

Five hundred years ago, access to knowledge meant joining one of a very few communities of scholars. Fifty years ago, it meant physically going to a local library. But as of about five years ago, it has meant pulling knowledge out of the air, wherever you might be–not everywhere, not universally, but it’s hard to imagine that access to information will ever become more difficult than it is right now.

The physical layout of the traditional lecture hall, in which all the chairs face a single individual at the front of the room, encodes a pedagogy that is predicated on that faculty member being the sole source of expertise accessible from within the classroom. But the Internet and wireless technology give us the option of dismantling educational structures—physical and otherwise—that were necessary when access to information was difficult.

The shared physical setting of a college continues to be valuable for today’s students and scholars. For them, as it was for those 13th-century youths who gathered in Cambridge, it’s also about being part of a community of learners. But educators need to ask what it means to be inside a classroom where the walls are no longer a barrier to the flow of information.

Some electronic education technology amounts to “using bright new gadgets to teach the same old stuff in thinly disguised versions of the same old way,” in Seymour Papert’s prophetic words from 1971. So what are new ways of learning that better use the resources that electronic technology make available to us?

In his October 2015 Learning Devices column in Prism, Chris Rogers provided some excellent practical tips on using a smartphone in the classroom, ranging from its simple use as a calculator to sophisticated sensing, image processing, and control. As he put it, “My goal is always to turn the classroom into a space where students find different solutions to the same problems, and thereby teach each other–and me.” But we can extend out from this. In general, I don’t want my students to find different solutions to the same problems. I want them all to work on different problems—project-based learning is entirely facilitated by students being able to research their topic, on their own, from within the classroom or the lab, since I no longer need to carefully confine what they learn to the limits of my knowledge. I teach introductory materials science, which is an enormously broad field, and my students have taken on projects on everything from Widmanstätten patterns in meteorites to quantum dots. But as Rogers suggests, this also means that the students become sources of knowledge for each other and for me.

More broadly, we can stop thinking of ourselves as just the locally resident source of knowledge, and help our students learn how to find, synthesize, evaluate, and use information online. My engineering exams often had one-page “cheat sheets” to free students from having to memorize equations. Now that everyone has access to a universal cheat sheet, how does it change what and how we teach?

I was the kind of kid who read encyclopedias and who lived in the library, and I’m delighted that a generation of students is growing up in a world where there are no longer walls around knowledge. It’s up to us, as educators, to help them make the most of it.


Debbie Chachra is an associate professor of materials science at Olin College.




Assessing Entrepreneurship

It’s too complex for a single measure.

By Senay Purzer, Nicholas D. Fila and Kavin Nataraja

Let’s say you’re planning an entrepreneurship initiative in your institution. Perhaps you’re introducing a new entrepreneurship course for engineering students, or a certificate program, minor, or major. Perhaps you’re looking to incorporate entrepreneurial content in your thermodynamics course. How will you know whether your initiative has been successful? As with many educational innovations, one of the primary challenges educators face is finding assessment instruments and methods to provide fair and valid inferences of student learning and programmatic success.

We conducted a comprehensive literature search to explore the existing methods used to assess engineering entrepreneurship. We found a total of 52 relevant assessment instruments, including seven distinct assessment types (surveys, project deliverables, essays, quizzes, interviews, concept map exercises, and observations of student behavior) and eight distinct assessment topics (business planning, design, communication, business realization, teamwork, leadership, professional practice, and general conceptions of entrepreneurship). The variety in these instruments reveals that engineering entrepreneurship is not viewed as a unified construct, but composed of diverse knowledge, skills, and attitudes. Hence, a single instrument would not be sufficient to demonstrate success, but a system of instruments is needed to capture the complexity of engineering entrepreneurship.

For classroom assessment, the keys are to plan assessment activities along with learning activities and to assess student progress on specific competencies rather than specific deliverables. First, start with a list of competencies you want students to develop by the end of the course. The topics discussed earlier (e.g., business realization) may provide some guidance. Next, create a matrix that aligns competencies with evidence pieces (deliverables students will complete, observations, tests, etc.), which make up opportunities for assessment. Through such mapping, you might see some competencies are under- or over-assessed throughout a semester. One important finding of our study was that assessment took a variety of forms; yet, there is also the need and opportunity for creativity in developing new ways of assessment.

Our study demonstrated that there are a variety of assessment instruments that engineering educators may be able to use for programmatic assessment purposes. However, the first consideration should be evaluating the appropriate use of these instruments, ideally with input from the developers of the instrument and insights from small-scale pilot studies. How confident are you that students will interpret items as intended? What are the appropriate uses of assessment results? Many of the assessments we found were not evaluated for fairness and validity for the contexts in which they were used. We suggest collecting your own validity evidence and collaborating with assessment experts on this process.

Assessment provides a means to track student progress and to evaluate the success of our educational initiatives. One key question moving forward is: What is unique about engineering entrepreneurship compared with conceptualizations in other fields, such as business? We must find new ways to assess the knowledge, skills, and attitudes across the topics that are important for engineers, and we must do so in ways that are appropriate, relevant, and meaningful for our students. With 52 assessments and counting, we have a good start.


Senay Purzer is an associate professor in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University, where Nicholas D. Fila is a doctoral candidate. Kavin M. Nataraja is a software developer at J.P. Morgan Chase. This article is excerpted from “Evaluation of Current Assessment Methods in Engineering Entrepreneurship Education” in the Winter 2016 issue of Advances in Engineering Education. (Supported by NSF Grant 1150874)





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Louis Martin-Vega, engineering dean at North Carolina State University, assumed ASEE's presidency June 29 at the society’s annual conference. He succeeded Joseph Rencis, engineering dean at Tennessee Tech University, who will continue in a leadership role as immediate past president. Click here to watch an ASEE TV interview with the new president. See Michelle Bersabal's photos of other events and festivities in New Orleans by clicking on the Conference Connection blog.


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