10/6/15 Edward Berger

Purdue’s mechanical engineering program will get a makeover to prepare future engineers for a more multidisciplinary world.

The Revolutionizing Engineering Departments program, funded by the National Science Foundation, picked Purdue as one of the five universities to research changing how undergraduate engineering is taught across the country. Purdue’s mechanical engineering program is also the only one selected in the country.

“We noticed that the runner-ups were all supportive of the idea to continue to evolve for the students,” said Edward Berger, associate professor of engineering education and mechanical engineering.

The mechanical engineering program, through Berger’s research, will be working with students and faculty to achieve this goal in a couple of years. Even though its funding was finalized in mid-July, Purdue’s research didn’t start until August when there were more students on campus to work with.

“The continuum of formation (of becoming an engineer) starts when you’re a kid,” Berger said. “We are focusing on what we at the University can do, while students are here, to contribute to the formation of those engineers.”

The research will focus on skills that the industry will look for in future engineers, like leadership and communication skills and the ability to function on diverse teams in addition to technical skills. Two classes in Purdue’s first-year engineering program, Transforming Ideas to Innovations I and II, already study these skills through a survey to place students into teams in each semester. This survey, known as the Comprehensive Assessment of Team Member Effectiveness survey, also asks feedback questions periodically to assess the teams’ and each member’s success.

This survey is one of the tools Berger and other researchers want to integrate into the mechanical engineering department.

”It’s one of those things where students already know how to use it,” Berger said. “So why don’t we keep using it?”

The research will also focus on the alignment of teaching and learning to get both students and faculty engaged in the research. To do this, researchers sent identical surveys to both groups to get more ideas to make the department better. Then, in mid-October, they will compare responses to figure out how the students’ and faculty’s beliefs about teaching and learning align. If there is a huge gap between teaching and learning, then researchers need to figure out how to close that gap.

”If the alignment is perfect, sometimes it doesn’t challenge students enough,” Berger said. “If you get into a job, your environment is sometimes not adjusted perfectly, and you have to learn and perform in environments that are just a little bit out of your comfort zone.”

Even though the research just began, mechanical engineering students like senior Anthony DeSalvo are looking forward to its outcome.

“I believe the (Revolutionizing Engineering Departments) program is a step in the right direction in making improvements to the mechanical engineering student experience,” DeSalvo said. “I am looking forward to see what the research program brings to the table.”

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