PULLMAN – Helping to better prepare students for 21st century engineering, Denny Davis, Professor in the School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering, has received a two-year, $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to test a variety of
assessment tools for the capstone senior engineering design course.
The tools could eventually be used by faculty throughout the country to better assess students’ true readiness for the engineering workplace.
Davis is working with Michael Trevisan, WSU assessment and evaluation professor, Steven Beyerlein, UI mechanical engineering professor, and researchers from Seattle University and Alabama’s Tuskegee University.
Most engineering programs in the U.S. have capstone design courses for seniors, in which students solve real-world problems and develop real products. The researchers have been working to improve assessment of student capability in these courses.
The grant comes about from previous work in which researchers from a consortium of colleges in the Pacific Northwest developed a  profile of skills that 21st century engineers will need to have in the workplace. They found that while engineers still need to be able to solve problems well, design products, and conduct research, new engineers will also need interpersonal skills such as communicating, collaborating, leading, and marketing products.
They also need to know how to continue to grow in their profession, long after they’ve stopped taking notes.The researchers want to make it easier for faculty to know a quality senior design project, be able to distinguish between novice and expert design, and assess how well students have learned necessary interpersonal skills in their senior design classes.
The researchers have developed a number of exercises that grow student skills and give faculty and students feedback as the students work to develop their design solutions.  Their aim is to increase “metacognitive’’ learning by students. That is, the students do exercises regularly that encourage them “to think about what they’re doing,” says Davis.
For instance, one exercise has students rate themselves and their teammates and assess how they might elevate their performance. The exercise helps the students to think critically at a higher level about the work they’re doing, says Davis.
The researchers are working to develop a full set of tools in four areas of performance, including team work, personal capacity, design process, and “solution assets,” which includes intermediate and final products representing the solution.
The researchers have been developing and testing the tools at the four universities. The new grant allows the researchers to complete their set of assessments, develop simpler methods for faculty to use them, and distribute the new tools to a variety of universities.