April 2012 Subscribe
In This Issue: Products & Programs

Agilent Technologies
Agilent Educator's Corner

Advanced Physical Modeling Tackles the Complexity of Modern Engineering

RIGOL Technologies
New! DSA815 Spectrum Analyzer

FREE WEBINAR: Welcome the
Future FE

ASEE Promotion:

ASEE's Exclusive New "Engineering Education Suppliers Guide"
A new online resource designed specifically to help engineering educators locate products and services for the classroom and research.
Learn More

I. Databytes

Engineering Doctorates on the Rise

ASEE’s most recent survey indicates that engineering doctorates increased about 6% from the previous year after remaining virtually unchanged from 2007 to 2010.  We anticipate degrees will continue to increase slightly over the next several years.

ASEE’s most recent survey indicates that engineering doctorates increased about 6% from the previous year after remaining virtually unchanged from 2007 to 2010.

Other data trends can be viewed at www.asee.org/colleges.




II. Congressional Hotline

Sequestration Fears Giving Military Brass the Jitters

Pentagon officials bemoan the impact of across-the-board cuts due to take effect in 2013 unless Congress can reach a deal on cutting the deficit. But depending on how the White House Office of Management and budget applies the 2011 Budget Control Act, DOD planners may have some leeway over what to cut, according to a Bloomberg analysis.

Senator: Why is NASA Education Facing Cuts?

Sen. Bill Nelson (D, Fla.), during a recent Senate hearing entitled "Keeping America Competitive through Investments in R&D," wanted to know why the administration was proposing cutting NASA education programs. Explaining the 25 percent cut, OSTP Director John Holdren said NASA "was able to look for opportunities for consolidation and improved efficiency," according to the American Institute of Physics' Aline McNaull. At the same hearing, National Science Foundation Director Subra Suresh was quizzed by John Boozman (R, Ark.) about interdisciplinary research, one of Suresh's priorities. Republicans frequently express concern that the administration is drifting away from basic science. According to McNAull, Suresh told him "that a solid foundation in basic research is necessary for interdisciplinary research...".

Panel Chairman Ponders Access to U.S.-funded Research

Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., who chairs the House Science investigations subcommittee, has been caustically critical of the Obama administration's science policies. But on the issue of how much access the public should get to federally funded research findings, something the White House is now weighing, he mostly has questions. In his opening statement during a recent hearing, he asked: "Has increased access impacted the number of citations and references, and is this even a valuable metric to determine effectiveness? Has greater access spurred additional inquiries or novel research? How has public access affected innovation and commercialization? How do varying funding models for peer-review impact how researchers and agencies fund research? Are journals capable of adapting to meet new challenges presented by the digital age . . . ?" The debate pits librarians and others against scholarly journal publishers.





Student Jim Portmann tests the German Wheel.
Student Jim Portmann tests the German Wheel.

Thinking Inside the Ring

An original dynamics course brings engineering under the Big Top

By Jaimie N. Schock

Teetering on a narrow metal bar 30 feet from the floor, AnnMarie Thomas lets go of the support ropes and hurtles downward. When she’s a heartbeat away from certain injury, the bungee cords attached to her waist spring into action. She bounces back in a succession of rebounds and plunges, each oscillation shorter than the last, until her motion stops.

Barnum & Bailey? No, it’s dynamics as taught by Thomas, an assistant professor of engineering at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., who believes in going above and beyond the standard curriculum. A juggler and circus enthusiast since her youth, Thomas contends that acrobatics offer an ideal way to convey concepts like movement, momentum, and Lagrangian dynamics: “The circus is a giant physics and engineering playground.” And who says engineering theory has to be boring? After Thomas climbs down from the trapeze, each student gets a turn—no pre-training required. “When you’re having fun, you’re going to remember things,” she tells them.

Thomas, trained as a mechanical engineer, was inspired to produce the course while taking a flying trapeze class at Circus Juventas, one of at least two circus schools in the St. Paul area. CJ agreed to serve as the class laboratory, with coaches on hand to help students use the equipment safely. Thomas taught the course alongside Keith Berrier, an electrical and aerospace engineer whom she met in the trapeze class. He has since become an adjunct instructor in electrical engineering and design at St. Thomas.

The course was given just once, in the winter of 2009, a period St. Thomas sets aside for intensive one-month classes, but the instructors would like to offer it again and say it could be replicated in any city with a circus training facility. It features five circus acts, each chosen to illustrate how a particular simple machine functions. Besides joining in the acrobatics, students worked out equations to anticipate movements for each act. They recorded the stunts with video cameras and then used software to calculate the actual movements, compare them with the anticipated results, and analyze any discrepancies.

The first act, known as the German wheel, works like a disc rolling on a plane. Essentially a cylinder made from two 8-feet-in-diameter hoops with a common axis, the wheel rolls side to side when a performer—or college student—shifts his or her center of mass. The person inside executes a series of perfect, guided cartwheels. Calculations of the act’s velocity and acceleration points are simple, allowing for the best predictions and “beautiful data,” according to Thomas.

The heart-pounding bungee trapeze, employing a high platform and a set of bungee cords, functions like a classic mass and spring. Student groups measured damped oscillations and derived a theoretical equation to account for and compare to the real-world data. Two other acts, the famous flying trapeze and its smaller cousin, the low-casting trapeze, are more like large pendulums. Students calculated equations of motion, using both humans and weights, and attempted to discover whether trapezes most resembled simple or double pendulums.

In the fifth and final activity, known as the Spanish web, the students climb a rope and begin spinning with help from a coach or instructor. Over time, the speed increases and the body whirls around at a dizzying pace. The faster the person rotates, the higher the body lifts. Given the ability to go fast enough, the figure would become purely horizontal. The students had to figure out, given the speed, what angle would be obtained in relation to the weight of the person. A simpler version would be to hold a bucket of water and spin around. With increased speed, the arm holding the bucket ascends.

Among the motion-analysis software tools used were PASCO2 Amusement Park Physics Bundle sets, which consist of a data-logger; a three-axis acceleration altimeter sensor and vest to hold them; a human movement analysis program called KA Video3; and Dartfish4 image processing software. The programs, on loan from the university’s health and human performance department, were new for the students, but graduate student Andrea Guggenbuehl was on hand to show them the ropes.

Though active participation wasn’t required, every student jumped at the chance to tackle all the activities with Thomas and Berrier. Safety lines meant they could perform without prior training or any real risk of injury. William Besser, a mechanical engineering and business management double-major who took the class as a sophomore, even conquered his fear of heights to take on the flying trapeze. The course’s sole female student decided because of the class to add a second major in mechanical engineering.

The circus is agiant physics and engineering playground. –AnnMarie Thomas

Thomas says this kind of active learning can be more effective than lectures and textbooks, and mounting pedagogical evidence backs her up. A 2011 study involving a large-enrollment physics class by University of British Columbia researchers found that with active learning, attendance grew, engagement rose, and students learned twice as much as a control group in a traditional lecture setting. Moreover, a 2009 study from Loughborough University showed that along with virtual simulations, software use, and post-activity reflection, which Thomas’s course utilized, hands-on learning was essential to grasping information.

When there were data discrepancies between anticipated numbers and actual numbers for the bungee trapeze, the class discussed exactly how and why that occurred. “How we measured the K value” was “a little bit crude,” Thomas says. The sensors from PASCO2, designed for more general data taken by students at the K-12 level, were not as accurate as would be ideal, and since the students didn’t go up into the rafters of the big top to measure exact lengths, errors could have come from there, too. But,Thomas says, uncertainty in data is much more like the real world and thus important for students to see.

The course culminated in a performance for sixth graders featuring student-executed acts designed to convey basic science concepts. In lieu of a final exam, they worked together in small groups to prepare mini-lessons for kids from Farnsworth Aerospace School, which is tied to a precollegiate education center Thomas runs. Besser’s team used the German wheel to demonstrate gravity and simple science, while another group used the low-casting trapeze to explain potential and kinetic energy conversion. The latter included a discussion on how breakfast gives circus performers the energy to accomplish their feats.

A student in the German wheel group slipped and fell during the demonstration. Before returning to complete the maneuver successfully, the student transformed the slip-up into an impromptu lesson for the grade school pupils, telling them that engineering was about making mistakes and learning from them. To Thomas, this unscripted moment was a highlight of the course. Their presentation was such a smash that they were invited to perform again for the general public at Circus Juventas’s anniversary celebration, “World Circus Day.”

For Besser and his classmates, the course provided another unanticipated benefit: Performing the Spanish web and other feats persuaded them they were out of shape. Now, they hit the gym more often.





JEE Selects

What Ethical Role Models?

Teaching must address negative
student perceptions

By Matthew A. Holsapple

Engineering educators agree about the importance of a strong foundation in ethics education, but mixed research findings call into question the effectiveness of traditional teaching methods. Generally, research about ethics education focuses on teaching practices and overlooks ways in which institutional culture and students’ other experiences influence educational effectiveness. Our Student Engineering Ethical Development (SEED) Study, the first national assessment of engineering ethics education, addressed the overarching question, “What is the impact of educational experiences and institutional culture on students’ ethical development?”

To examine institutional culture, curricular and cocurricular experiences related to ethics, and students’ ethical development, we collected data from 19 partner institutions using focus groups and interviews with faculty, students, and administrators, and a survey of 3,914 students. We analyzed data from focus groups and interviews, imposing a conceptual framework on our analysis and outlining themes that emerged across institutions.

We found that faculty and students do indeed have different perceptions of the engineering ethics education at their institutions, and that aspects of the institutional culture contribute to these discrepancies. Faculty described ethics education as teaching students how to approach complex, nuanced ethical dilemmas, but students described the faculty as being overly focused on teaching students to follow prescribed rules and codes of ethics. Faculty also described role-modeling of ethical behavior as an important component of ethics education. Students, however, largely did not see faculty as positive ethical role models. For example, students reported observing unethical behavior by faculty and hearing faculty endorse or encourage unethical behavior in students. Students also reported seeing a focus on academic dishonesty and its consequences – including punishment – at the expense of more complex considerations of engineering ethics in the classroom.

Based on these findings, it is clear that students’ perceptions of their institutions’ culture can undermine faculty efforts and limit the effectiveness of classroom-based ethics education. It is essential that faculty and administrators listen to students and address these perspectives. We offer the following suggestions for engineering educators and administrators:

  • Consider ethics education as taking place throughout the institutional culture, not just in the engineering classroom. Students are exposed to messages about ethics throughout their undergraduate careers, in the formal curriculum and outside the classroom. These messages can both affect students’ ethical development and potentially work against what faculty teach in the classroom. These messages do not just represent potential pitfalls to teaching ethics; they also represent new opportunities.

  • Incorporate discussions of the complex nature of engineering. Present nuanced, complicated ethical dilemmas, like those a professional engineer would encounter, as part of ethics education. Also, when using more black-and-white ethics lessons, draw connections between simple issues and larger, more complex ones.

  • Draw students’ attention to positive examples of faculty ethical behavior. It is not enough for faculty to quietly behave ethically and hope that students notice; our findings suggest they do not. Instructors should engage students in explicit discussion of these examples and the choices involved, and explore their ethical implications.

  • Include student perspectives when planning and evaluating ethics education. Our findings suggest that faculty and students have a different understanding of existing engineering education efforts. Student understanding should be taken into account in the planning, implementation, and evaluation stages of education.

Matthew A. Holsapple is a doctoral candidate at the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education at the University of Michigan. This article is excerpted from “Framing Faculty and Student Discrepancies in Engineering Ethics Education Delivery” in the April 2012 Journal of Engineering Education. Coauthors are Donald Carpenter, director of assessment and associate professor of civil engineering at Lawrence Technological University; Janel Sutkus, director of institutional research and analysis, Carnegie Mellon University; Cynthia Finelli, director of the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching in Engineering and research associate professor of engineering education at the University of Michigan; and Trevor Harding, professor of materials engineering at California Polytechnic State University.





Job-hunting? Here are a few current openings:

1. Assistant Vice Chancellor -- 1 opportunity

2. Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering -- 1 opportunity

3. Dean -- 3 opportunities

Visit here for details:




VI. Free Webinars for Engineering Educators


Welcome the Future FE

NCEES and ASEE are presenting a webinar to prepare you for the transition of the FE and FS exams to computer-based testing (CBT). Find out why the CBT development is happening and how the change will affect you and your students.

Thursday, April 26,1:00 p.m. EST

Register Now

Webinar: Educational Techniques for the Next Generation of Engineers

Tuesday May 29th, 2012, at 10:00 am ET

With fresh thinking, new engineering challenges such as interdisciplinary and optimal design can begin influencing the curriculum in a way that is accessible to most undergrads, is relevant to industry, and does not sacrifice rigor.

To register, go to :




San Antonio

Join us for the 119th ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition!

Spurring Big Ideas in Education

June 10 - 13, 2012
San Antonio, Texas

The ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition is the only conference dedicated to all disciplines of engineering education.  It is committed to fostering the exchange of ideas, enhancing teaching methods and curriculum, and providing prime networking opportunities for engineering and technology education stakeholders such as deans, faculty members and industry and government representatives.

The ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition hosts over 400 technical sessions, with peer-reviewed papers spanning all disciplines of engineering education. Attendees include deans, faculty and researchers, students, and retirees. Distinguished lectures run on Wednesday, and there are two Main Plenaries. In addition to various award receptions and banquets, ASEE also will feature a complimentary "Meet the Board Forum," providing the opportunity for all registrants to meet with members of the ASEE Board of Directors and discuss current issues in engineering and technology.

The spouse/guest tours help make the conference an event for the entire family. Other highlights include the "Greet the Stars" orientation for new ASEE members and first-time conference attendees, the ASEE Division Mixer, and the "Focus on Exhibits" Welcome Reception, Brunch, Ice Cream Social and Closing Lunch. The 2012 conference will be in San Antonio, Texas. We look forward to welcoming you there.

Learn More


2012 ASEE K-12 Workshop on Engineering Education

2012 ASEE K-12 Workshop on Engineering Education
Presented by Dassault Systèmes
“Employing Engineering for STEM Learning”

June 9, 2012
San Antonio, Texas
8:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Henry B. Gonzales Convention Center
200 East Market Street

K-12 teachers and engineering educators from the southwest and across the nation!

Please join us for an energizing, interactive day focusing on advancing K-12 STEM education in the classroom. Learn about hands-on, innovative, effective ways to integrate engineering education into the STEM classroom. Count on new knowledge and best practices, fun ideas for lessons, useful take-away materials, networking opportunities, and a program document stating hours of completion. (Depending on attendee's institution, hours can be applied toward continuing professional education credits.)

Who should attend:

  • Pre-college/K-12 educators in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)
  • District and state level school administrators
  • Race to the Top recipients
  • School counselors and administrators
  • Informal and afterschool educators
  • K-12 engineering education outreach staff
  • Engineering educators, outreach staff and advocates
  • ANYONE with an interest in engineering education

Mark Your Calendar:

Register NOW
at the reduced rate through June 1 5PM EST.
After June 1, all registration must be done on-site at regular rate.





ASEE K-12 Workshop - Proposals Sought

ASEE has two upcoming workshops. For more information, please click on the hyperlinks below:

  1. Advanced National Effective Teaching
    Institute (NETI-2)

    October 7 - 8, 2012

  2. National Effective Teaching
    Institute (NETI) - 1B

    January 4 - 6, 2013




Coming up in the Summer 2012 edition of Prism magazine:

COVER STORY: A Matter of Degrees. The idea of establishing a master’s degree as the first professional degree for engineering is gaining a higher profile, with backing from prominent figures in the field and civil engineering groups. Still, many engineering educators remain opposed. On the other side of the spectrum, a three-year degree works well in Britain. Should it be tried in the United States?

FEATURE 1: Prisons. In New Zealand, which places a premium on vocational training in the rehabilitation of prisoners, a number of inmates are getting a head start in engineering education – with benefits both for them and the national economy. Such is rarely the case in the United States, to the disappointment of some engineering educators, companies, and prison reformers.

FEATURE 2: Textiles. A photo feature on cutting edge engineering of textiles for fashion, protection, and athletic performance.

Read the current issue of Prism magazine





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