Profs selected to share hands-on learning expertise at national gathering of engineering educators

PULLMAN, Wash. – Two Washington State University professors have been selected to participate in a prestigious national gathering this month of 73 engineering educators to share ideas, research and best practices.

“WSU and the College of Engineering and Architecture have a reputation for providing hands-on experience that prepares our students to be ‘work ready, day-one,’’’ said Bob Olsen, CEA associate dean. “Our faculty participation in this important symposium demonstrates our innovative leadership in the critical field of engineering education.’’

Ali Mehrizi-Sani, School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Robert Richards, School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, will join the National Academy of Engineering’s Frontiers of Engineering Education (FOEE) symposium Oct. 27-30 in Irvine, Calif.

Richards-80Richards was part of a group led by professor Bernie Van Wie that developed a desktop learning module that the company Armfield, Inc. commercialized in August. The DLM can hold seven interchangeable cartridges, each representing a miniaturized industrial equipment process. It allows students to conduct physical experiments that help them understand concepts like heat transfer.

Building on that project, Richards began working on educational devices that would be cheaper and more accessible to students. Using thermoform plastic – the material in disposable coffee cup lids and those impossible-to-open toy packages – Richards is creating experiment tools that would cost $1-2.

“Studies have shown that people learn better when actively solving problems,” he said, “so these experiments would do more than just give on-campus students a hands-on experience. They will allow distance learners and online students to have labs on branch campuses or in their homes.”

In addition to engineering education, Richards does research in thermodynamics and heat and mass transfer. He is a co-inventor and principal investigator of the P3 micro engine, a one cubic millimeter dynamic engine that could someday be used to power electronics.

He will present his experiment tools and related research at the symposium, where he hopes to receive feedback and learn more about what others are doing in engineering education.

“Anything we can do to help the next generation be successful, we should do,” he said. “Finding new ways to get students engaged in education is our contribution.”

Mehrizi-Sani-80Mehrizi-Sani will present his project that aims to make complicated topics such as power electronics more understandable through engaging homework. He received initial funding through a WSU Smith Teaching and Learning grant.

“Power electronics involves different technologies, disciplines and conversion processes, so students often have difficulties connecting the dots between the different parts,” he said.

His proposed homework structure is a story line involving the different elements that makes the connections between the processes clearer.

“We have a huge shortage in power engineers,” he said. “So anything we can do to prepare students will fulfill state and national power needs, as well as making the students competitive in the job market.”

He plans to add a hardware component to his power electronics course so students can actually make the converters they are studying. He is also part of a three-person team of researchers from the WSU Energy Systems Innovation Center that recently received a National Science Foundation grant to give scholarships to undergraduates to study power engineering.

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