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November 2020


  • Trends in Primary Support of Full-Time Engineering Graduate Students

Sponsored Content: NYU

  • NYU Tandon Researchers Are Laying Down the Groundwork for 6G


  • Study Finds Most STEM-Based Toys Are Bought for Boys

Sponsored Content: Keysight

  • Preventing and Solving Common Test & Measurement Issues


  • Avatar of Applied Learning


  • The Promise of Project-Based Learning


  • What’s On Tap in the December/
    January Issue of Prism?


  • New E-Book Details History of Engineering Research Centers
  • Interim Report on the Impact of COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter on Engineering Education
  • Submit to Prism’s Last Word Column
  • Nominate a Fellow


By Angela Erdiaw-Kwasie

This month’s Databyte looks at the variety of forms in which financial support is provided to engineering graduate students and how that support has changed over the past decade.

Sources of support include federal agencies, academic institutions, state and local governments, foreign governments, nonprofit institutions, and industrial firms. Most graduate students are supported by multiple sources and mechanisms over their course of study—and often in any given academic year. Generally, one form of support tends to be the primary mode for a student in a given year.

Since 2008, shifts have occurred among the different types of primary support mechanisms (Figure 1). The proportion of graduate students with primary research assistantship (RA) support decreased from 27 to 23.5 percent, traineeships rose from 0.6 to 1 percent, and teaching assistantships decreased from 9.6 to 9.3 percent between 2008 and 2018. The proportion of engineering graduate students supported by fellowships remained between 5.8 and 6.1 percent over the decade; the proportion with primary self-support fluctuated between 21.8 and 29.9 percent.

In 2018, RAs and self-supported funding stood out as the top primary supports across the various engineering disciplines. About one-third of full-time engineering graduate students drew their financial support primarily from loans or from personal or family contributions that year. The importance of self-support also varied across the disciplines. Self-support funding accounted for over 30 percent of the primary support mechanisms in civil, electrical, industrial, mechanical, mining, nanotechnology, and petroleum engineering (Table 2). Although RAs accounted for 23.5 percent of all primary support mechanisms in 2018, they comprised more than 40 percent of the primary support mechanisms for graduate students in agricultural, metallurgical and materials, nanotechnology, and nuclear engineering. In contrast, they accounted for less than 10 percent in industrial and manufacturing engineering (Table 2).

Source: National Science Foundations National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering

Table 1



Table 2

Sponsored Content

NYU Tandon Researchers Are Laying Down the Groundwork for 6G

Ten years ago, Ted Rappaport and Tom Marzetta were spearheading two pieces of technology that would lead to the foundation of 5th Generation broadband cellular technology, known as 5G. Marzetta’s Massive MIMO (multiple-input multiple-output) and Rappaport’s use of millimeter wave (mmWave) technologies served as the foundation of this generation’s high-speed wireless. Now the race is on for the next big leap: 6G.

Rappaport and Marzetta have come together to lead one of the premier research centers in mobile telephony: NYU WIRELESS, a part of NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering since 2012. Here, students and researchers enmesh themselves in an environment built to push the bounds of creativity in the understanding of wireless technology. And it’s there that the theoretical groundwork is being laid for the next generation of wireless.

Even as 5G technology is just now powering cell phones, Marzetta and Rappaport recognize the urgent need to begin work now on 6G or risk the U.S. falling behind in the race for the future of wireless. Sub-terahertz frequencies, AI, and machine learning will all play a role in creating intelligent networks that are more easily managed than today’s networks, with unimaginable speed and fidelity. The sooner that work begins, the better positioned we’ll be in the next decade.

The researchers at NYU WIRELESS aren’t content to bask in the success of 5G. They’re already pushing forward to the next big break in wireless. When the future is uncertain and the solutions are undiscovered, you need unconventional engineers. And they are ensuring that the future of wireless is #NYUTandonMade.



Six years ago, Monica E. Cardella, a professor of engineering education at Purdue University, and Huma Shoaib, a graduate student at the school, analyzed online reviews on two websites that sell STEM-oriented toys: MindWare and Amazon. They were interested in whether adults who purchase engineering-based toys were buying them more frequently for boys or girls. As the researchers point out, STEM toys are one way that young people can learn the basics of engineering. Cardella and Shoaib found that 72 percent of the toys were bought for boys; girls were the recipients for just 28 percent. This disparity, they write, may be a factor contributing to the lack of representation of women in engineering, because these toys can promote interest in engineering at an early age and help children develop the knowledge and skills used by engineers. Four years later, Cardella and Shoaib decided to conduct the study again. They expected to find a larger share of the toys bought for girls in the second study, mainly because during the intervening years a number of tech toys aimed at girls had come to market—Goldiblox and Roominate, for example. But in a paper presented at ASEE’s Virtual Annual Conference in June, the pair reported that instead they found a 5 percent decline in the purchase of STEM toys for girls. The researchers analyzed 2,974 reviews on Amazon and 784 on MindWare. This time, they found that 77 percent of the toys were bought for boys and 23 percent were purchased for girls. Cardella and Shoaib believe that marketing tactics and the influence of older-generation buyers, such as parents and grandparents, are the “culprits giving rise to this gender disparity.” But there is some good news: The researchers also found more STEM toys bought by K–12 teachers for classes and summer camps, offering promise that more girls may be introduced to, and inspired by, the toys.

Sponsored Content

Prevent and Solve Common Test & Measurement Issues

With distance learning, students may not have a Professor nearby to help them setup and perform their labs. This leaves the student, the instruments and the device under test at risk. Share this troubleshooting flyer with your EE students to navigate some common issues.

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A dual ASEE award winner wants engineering technology to get the recognition it’s due.

By Jennifer Pocock

Engineering technology gets short shrift in some circles, and Michael Johnson considers that a major flaw. “We want more technical professionals in the United States. We want to be competitive,” says the Texas A&M professor and associate department head of undergraduate education in engineering technology. “Whatever flavor they come in doesn’t really matter. What helps is that there are people who can contribute, who can design and manufacture products.” In engineering technology, he adds, “we are very focused on teaching you to be a practicing technical professional.”

Johnson, who joined the Texas A&M faculty in 2007, loves engaging with students who are ready to dig in. His efforts won him two of ASEE’s most prestigious ET-related recognitions this year: the National Engineering Technology Teaching Award and the Frederick J. Berger Award, which “encourages excellence in engineering technology education.”

Johnson’s ET conversion came after earning traditional degrees in mechanical engineering—and still feeling ill-prepared to be a practicing engineering professional. There was too much theory and not enough hands-on work. His passion for applied learning, however, began with engines, an interest acquired growing up in Michigan in a family of gearheads with a father who worked on the line at General Motors. Johnson, who loved taking things apart, “wanted to build airplanes or cars.”

While an undergraduate at Michigan State, he interned at 3M and quickly realized that the product-design jobs he most hoped to pursue all required advanced degrees. Seeking a change of pace from the Midwest, he found his way to MIT for his master’s and Ph.D. degrees. He rejoiced in the idea of living in a place with so many different thought leaders. “I thought it would be cool to walk around and maybe bump into [author and activist] Cornel West,” who was a Harvard professor at the time, he recalls. “I actually did see him in Harvard Square once.”

While Johnson didn’t end up designing automobiles and airplanes as originally envisioned, he did find his family history coming full circle: He partnered with GM for his dissertation, studying their product design process. Following graduation, he worked in industry at the 3M corporate research lab in St. Paul, Minn., as a product development engineer. “I’d always known I wanted to come back to the academy,” he says, “but I wanted to get some practical experience first.”

A runner who enjoys spending time with his wife and coaching his three sons’ sports leagues, Johnson especially loves teaching senior design courses—his focus for the past six years. “I enjoy getting a chance to see [students] right before they get out,” he says. He particularly relishes students he taught as sophomores coming back for his capstone class and “seeing their growth and professionalism” as they “matured throughout the curriculum.”

The age of COVID-19 has brought new challenges to ET programs like Johnson’s. “The hands-on component that you get in the lab is really the core of engineering technology,” he explains. “Getting that done remotely is difficult.” This fall, the prime focus has been “trying to get as many people into the lab as safely as possible.” With mask requirements and the aid of large-screen projectors, he’s conjured a setup that he hopes will protect students from catching the virus while providing as complete an educational experience as possible. “There are some things where you really do need that hands-on activity to understand how that equipment works and how different inputs affect outputs,” he says. In those cases, the students will come to the lab in small groups to work.

So far, the workaround seems to be going well. “It’s an unfortunate situation that was forced upon us,” Johnson emphasizes, “but I also think it’s a great opportunity to look at these [online learning] technologies and how we can better implement them to help our students.” Many of them, he notes, opted for online and hybrid learning this fall instead of in-person classes. He worries, however, that over the long haul, remote learning poses a double disadvantage for ET students, who are more likely to come from underrepresented groups and lack access to technology compared with their peers in engineering science programs. Eventually, he predicts, hybrid learning won’t suffice, and ET programs will need all hands on deck.





Benefits may last beyond a single introductory class, especially for female students.

By Ha Nguyen, Lily Wu, Christian Fischer, Gregory Washington, and Mark Warschauer

The majority of first- and second-year engineering students enter their majors with little experience in practically applying science and engineering concepts. This disconnect between theory-based learning in introductory courses and real-world engineering applications may discourage learners from persisting in the major—with serious implications for populations with lower persistence and graduation rates in the field overall, such as African American students, Latino/Hispanic students, and women. Project-based learning (PBL) has shown promise in addressing these challenges, particularly in increasing students’ motivation and reducing attrition. However, studies on the method’s impacts have largely focused on student and instructor perceptions of PBL or immediate effects on performance, rather than future learning outcomes. This prompted us to explore the impact of a project-based introductory engineering course on students’ academic success in subsequent courses. We also examined how the effects varied for students traditionally underrepresented in engineering education, such as female, low-income, first-generation, and racial minority college students.

We used data from 1,318 students who took an elective, introductory project-based course sequence from a large public university in Southern California in 2015–2016 and 2016–2017. Data included students’ demographics, academic preparation, course enrollment, and performance in five subsequent engineering courses. These covered a range of topics, from engineering computations and digital systems to statics.

The PBL course focused on collaborative learning and broad exposure to fundamental engineering skills. Students participated in a full product development cycle—project planning, research and design, prototyping, assessment, and presentation—as they worked on autonomous projects such as a fitness tracker, autonomous delivery quadcopter, and a “lab-on-a-chip” concentration detector.

We used regression analyses to explore (1) enrollment patterns in the project-based course, (2) impact of PBL on performance in several subsequent courses, and (3) differences in effects on student subsamples by gender, family income, high school academic preparedness, underrepresented minority status, English proficiency, and first-generation college status.

Our findings suggest that PBL can support students’ academic pathways in engineering. We found that enrollment in the project-based introductory engineering course did not substantially differ by student demographics. This implies that engineering faculty could frame the course as an exploratory experience of engineering topics, with broad appeal to students with different backgrounds.

Participation in a project-based introductory engineering course was linked to higher student performance in some subsequent engineering courses overall. These results align with prior research finding that PBL may enhance students’ ability to communicate with each other, monitor learning progress, and adjust their own learning. Engineering faculty may therefore integrate PBL elements early on in the undergraduate program, laying the foundation for subsequent course success. In particular, we found substantial positive benefits for female students. Prior research has shown that female students tend to gravitate towards courses with student-focused and collaborative learning.

Finally, we did not find adverse effects of participating in the project-based introductory course on students who were generally underrepresented in engineering (e.g., low-income and first-generation students, or those with weaker academic readiness). However, we observed larger benefits for their counterparts (e.g., not low-income, not first-generation, or those with higher academic readiness). It remains crucial to explore ways to support instruction that is conducive to learning for all students. For example, faculty could apply a two-step process that first introduces students to technical concepts and procedures before moving to PBL design components. For courses with collaborative learning components, instructors should also attend to the quality of participation at both the individual and group levels to foster equal participation and interdependence.

Overall, our research suggests that project-based introductory engineering courses can benefit students pursuing engineering majors, particularly female students. The method could contribute to increased persistence and graduation rates of women in undergraduate engineering programs. Further inquiry could examine the effects of different PBL designs and practices on populations, such as students traditionally underrepresented in engineering education, throughout their academic careers, to further support equity in engineering education.


Ha Nguyen is a Ph.D. student in STEM teaching and learning at the University of California–Irvine; Lily Wu is the director of academic innovation, programs, at the university’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering. Christian Fischer is an assistant professor of educational effectiveness at the Hector Research Institute of Education Sciences and Psychology, Eberhard Karls University of Tübinger. Gregory Washington is the Stacey Nicholas Dean of Engineering at the Henry Samueli School of Engineering, University of California–Irvine; Mark Warschauer is a professor of education and informatics at the university. This article is adapted from “Increasing Success in College: Examining the Impact of a Project-Based Introductory Engineering Course” in the July 2020 issue of the Journal of Engineering Education.


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COVER: SEVEN GENERATIONS—Engineers and architects look to indigenous practices—and students—to take the field into the future.

FEATURE: HEAL THYSELF—Fueled by military research funding, in vivo bioprinting promises to transform medicine—and lives—on and off the battlefield.

FEATURE: ROBOTICS REBOOT—An innovative solution that breaks calculus’s stronghold on engineering education also shows promise in improving student access.



Since 1984, the National Science Foundation’s highly successful Engineering Research Centers (ERC) program has been at the forefront of the agency’s efforts to develop innovative new modes of support for research and education, guided U.S. academic institutions to evolve the ways in which research is structured and to form intellectual and financial partnerships with industry, produced thousands of engineering graduates who are highly productive leaders and innovators in industry and academe, and enabled thousands of new technologies and companies that have stimulated the U.S. economy and yielded a substantial return on NSF’s investment.  

The history of this landmark program, which continues to evolve and grow today, has now been told in an e-book written by Lynn Preston, who led the program almost from its inception until 2013, and Courtland Lewis, its long-time communications consultant. (Access a quick overview of the book or the full copy without charge.)

The e-book is easily navigated and searched and also provides links to hundreds of supporting resource and reference materials. The authors hope that the book will provide government program managers, academic faculty and administrators, and industry leaders with valuable lessons learned, best practices, and guidance regarding the structure, operation, and management of such centers, not only in engineering but in any field of science and technology.  



An interim ASEE report on how the academic engineering community responded to the twin crises of the coronavirus pandemic and the protests over racial injustice is now available ( COVID-19 & Engineering Education highlights the results of an NSF-funded project to look at initial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the engineering education community.


ASEE’s flagship Prism magazine welcomes submissions of essays for our Last Word page. These should be about 675 words, plus a short bio paragraph, and present an argument that generates discussion. Topics are left up to the authors, but should be of interest to engineering educators. Articles are chosen based on the importance or timeliness of the issues raised, clarity, and quality of presentation. They can be submitted either by text email or email with an attachment in Word.

Please allow at least 12 weeks for your submission to complete the review process. Every article submitted to Prism is reviewed carefully by the magazine's editorial staff. During this time, your article should not be submitted elsewhere and should not be already under consideration by another publication. Once your submission has completed the review process, we will notify you in writing whether your article has been accepted or rejected for publication in Prism.

Please email submissions to Prism Editor Eva Miller.  


The grade of ASEE Fellow Member is one of unusual professional distinction. The Board of Directors confers it upon members with outstanding qualifications and experience in engineering or engineering technology education, or an allied field. Special attention is given to an individual's contributions within ASEE. 

Nominees must be ASEE members and must have been a member of the Society in any grade for at least 10 consecutive years. The deadline for nominees to submit a complete nomination and for references to submit their letters of recommendation is February 4 at 11:59 PM, ET.

For more information on the online nomination process, visit ASEE's Fellow Member nomination page. Please log on to your ASEE homepage and click Award Nominations on the landing page to begin the process.

For more information, email ASEE Membership Director Tim Manicom.


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