(61c) Design Challenges As a Spine to Chemical Engineering Courses
Chemical engineers have led many innovations in engineering education, from publishing one of the very few long-standing discipline-specific engineering education journals, to hosting summer schools for new chemical engineering faculty, to promoting active, self-paced learning, such as through http://www.learncheme.com/. Yet many aspects of undergraduate education remain relatively unchanged. As one of three chemical engineering programs that received a National Science Foundation RED "Revolutionizing Engineering and Computer Science Departments" grant, we have taken our particular context as a Hispanic-serving, research institution and embraced it to address these concerns. To enhance opportunities for our diverse students and connect their previous life and cultural experiences to chemical engineering, we have developed design challenges that have a low-bar entry, high ceiling threshold, and provide concrete connections to core content. For instance, in the first year course, students investigate the 2015 spill of acid mine drainage in the Animas river. Students choose a rural community, propose a community engagement strategy, develop a prevention or emergency response water filtration system, and deliver an oral presentation of their designs. In one sophomore design challenge, students apply what they are learning about chemical process calculations to the design of an algal biofuel plant scaled for a specific rural community. Students use a decision matrix and conduct techno-economic modeling to choose ways to grow, harvest and extract algal fuel. The challenge culminates in a public blogpost that builds on the team wiki page posts. In a junior design challenge, students apply what they are learning about transport phenomena to investigate the Kirtland Air Force base jet fuel leak. Students use diffusion, advection, chemical kinetics, and separations to design mitigation and containment solutions. Analysis of student learning demonstrates that this approach does not come at a cost to conceptual knowledge gains, reveals more about student depth of understanding than traditional assessments, and provides opportunities for students to develop critical professional skills (e.g., teamwork, ethics, communication, and critical thinking). Student surveys and course assessments suggest that such an approach to enhancing engineering education may have a positive effect on the retention of students from demographics underrepresented in engineering, especially rural and first generation students.