“We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair.” – Barack Obama, 2011 State of the Union address
PULLMAN – As government and industry leaders call for improved education and innovation to stay competitive in a global economy, WSU researchers are taking the lead in engineering education.
Three faculty members in the Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering received approximately 10 percent of the $18 million awarded nationally by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Transforming Undergraduate Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (TUES) program – more in 2010 than any academic department in the United States. The program provides research support for improving curricula and teaching methods in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

“If we are to meet the national call to be technology leaders in the 21st century, we need to be innovative in the way that we educate our students and bring the best education tools into our classrooms,’’ said Jim Petersen, director of the school. “For the Voiland school and WSU to receive such strong funding support speaks very well to the cutting-edge work we’re doing in this area.’’
In 2005, researchers from the College of Engineering and Architecture and the College of Education established the Engineering Education Research Center to facilitate research enabling innovation and effectiveness in engineering education. Led by Denny Davis, professor in the Voiland school, the research center has led and encouraged engineering education research that is one of the larger research thrusts at WSU.
Voiland school researchers also are leaders in establishing the first research experience program for junior high and high school teachers in the United States. The Summer at WSU Engineering Experiences for Teachers program subsequently has been established at a national level.
Thomson Zollars
Initiated by Petersen, Bill Thomson and professor Richard Zollars, it introduces teachers to engineering and helps them develop learning modules that they can take back into their classrooms.
In 2010, three Voiland school researchers received support for the following engineering education NSF TUES funded projects:
* Multi-Disciplinary Project-Based Paradigm that Uses Hands-on Desktop Learning Modules and Modern Learning Pedagogies. Led by professor Bernard Van Wie, this $600,000 project expands on earlier development of a prototype desktop learning module (DLM), an apparatus with multiple, easily interchangeable cartridges that can be reconfigured to perform a variety of experiments. DLMs are being used in classrooms to implement better teaching practices and demonstrate basic concepts in fluid mechanics and heat transfer. (See related story here)
* Appraisal System for Superior Engineering Education Evaluation-instrument Sharing and Scholarship (ASSESS). Led by Davis, this $600,000 project will create a Web-based library of proven engineering education evaluation instruments to help build evaluation capacity for the engineering education community.
* Exploring Studio-Based Learning in Chemical Engineering Education. Led by Zollars, this $600,000 project builds on a previously developed scaffolded software environment called ChemProV (chemical process visualizer). ChemProV presents chemical engineering students with dynamically generated feedback on the syntactic and semantic correctness of their evolving process flow diagrams and sets of equations, guiding them toward correct solutions
In addition to these projects in engineering education, Shane Brown, assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, also received a $400,000 NSF CAREER grant for a four-year project to better understand how practicing civil engineers gain understanding of engineering concepts. He hopes to develop a model of engineering thinking about these concepts and to create improved curricular materials based on this research. Read more about his research here.