February 2012 Subscribe
In This Issue:
    • Doctoral Degrees by Race and Ethnicity: A Decade of Little Change

    • Science and Tech may Survive Upcoming Budget Battle
    • House Panel Approves Cyber-Networking Bill
    • Va. Tech’s Smart Cost-Cutting Praised in Testimony

    • The 24/7 Tutor

    • Why They’re Leaving

    • A Selection of Current Job Openings

  • Free Webinars for Engineering Educators
    • Integrating Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE) Tools into Existing Engineering Courses - Teaching the 21st Century Engineer.
    • FREE WEBINAR: Welcome the Future FE
    • Free On Demand MATLAB Webinar:
      Making project-based learning easy and affordable

    • ASEE Action
    • World Engineering Education Forum
      WEEF 2012

    • Details of upcoming ASEE workshops

    • What’s ahead in the March 2012 edition of Prism magazine

    • Do you have a comment or suggestion for Connections?

Products & Programs

Webinar: Integrating Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE) Tools into Existing Engineering Courses
Teaching the 21st Century Engineer

Free Webinar: FE and FS exams move to computer-based testing

Rigol Technologies
100 Mhz Digital Oscilloscopes

Free On Demand Webinar: Making project-based learning easy and affordable

SPI - Society of the Plastics Industry
Attend the International Plastics Showcase, April 1 – 5, 2012

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

Doctoral Degrees
by Race and Ethnicity:
A Decade of Little Change

The percentages of recipients of doctoral degrees from all engineering disciplines by race and ethnicity show a great deal of stability over the last ten years.  African Americans, as a percentage of total of all recipients of doctoral degrees grew about half a percent from 2001 to 2010; Hispanics increased by about two percent during the same time period; Asian Americans stayed virtually unchanged; and Caucasians increased by percent.  

Doctoral Degrees by Race and Ethnicity*


2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
African American 3.9% 3.5% 3.4% 3.8% 3.7% 3.7% 3.6% 3.2% 3.8% 4.4%
Hispanic 3.3% 3.9% 3.6% 3.5% 3.7% 3.0% 3.5% 3.6% 3.8% 5.2%
Other 14.2% 11.4% 11.9% 14.0% 14.2% 15.1% 18.7% 19.5% 17.6% 10.7%
Asian American 13.9% 14.6% 14.4% 14.0% 14.4% 16.6% 12.0% 12.4% 13.2% 14.0%
Caucasian 64.7% 66.6% 66.7% 64.7% 64.0% 61.6% 62.2% 61.3% 61.6% 65.7%
*Data on ethnicity does not include schools from Puerto Rico or foreign nationals. The percentage of Hispanic graduates is 5.5% in 2010 if graduates from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez are included. New race and ethnicity categories, first reported in 2010, American Indians (0.4%), Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders (0.1%) and Two or More (0.5%) are combined under “other”. Six institutions reported virtually all degrees in the Unknown field. These institutions were removed from the calculations for race, ethnicity and residency.

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




II. Congressional Hotline

Science and Tech may Survive Upcoming Budget Battle

The Obama administration will show a world-class commitment to science and research in its FY 2013  budget, Kei Koizumi, assistant director for federal research and development at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, told engineering deans who attended ASEE's Public Policy Colloquium. Look for a continued push on advanced manufacturing and clean energy R&D. Two strategic plans will be out soon: one on manufacturing, and one on STEM education investments. Koizumi told the deans that the administration is also expected soon to release a bioeconomy blueprint, intended to harness biological research innovations in health, food, energy, and the environment. However, this being an election year, expect Obama's budget overall to get a negative reception in the GOP-controlled House. Tobin Smith, federal relations point man at the Association of American Universities, told the PPC: "You have to go back 120 years to see the level of polarization we're now seeing in Congress." But science and technology fared better than many expected in FY 2012. Smith is optimistic we'll see appropriations bills in FY 2013. Sequestration, if it's not averted by a deal either before or after the election, "would be awful for all of us."

House Panel Approves Cyber-Networking Bill

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee has cleared H.R. 3834, the Advancing America's Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Act, also known as NITR-D. It authorizes "large-scale, longterm, interdisciplinary research and development activities in networking and information technology." Among other things, it calls for a consortium of higher ed, federal labs and industry to conduct R&D for cyber-physical systems. The legislation was cited by Rep. Morris J. "Mo" Brooks, R-Ala., as an example of steps being taken to ensure the United States leads the world in science, technology, and innovation.

Va. Tech’s Smart Cost-Cutting Praised in Testimony

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee wasn't able to pry much out of the Education Department's Martha Kanter on the planned Race to the Top initiative for colleges, Inside Higher Ed reports. A hearing on affordability included testimony from Kevin Carey of the Education Sector, who praised Virginia Tech, which "has cut its labor costs dramatically for courses like Linear Algebra and Calculus" while, crucially, keeping student results the same or even improving them.





Teaching Toolbox

The 24/7 Tutor

Interactive Courseware Guides Students Through Statics at their Own Pace

By Thomas K. Grose

Many engineering educators are embracing research-proven active-learning techniques — hands-on activities and in-class demonstrations — to help motivate students and give them a deeper conceptual understanding of abstract underlying principles. It would seem that active learning is well-suited to Statics, which teaches methods for measuring the forces between bodies. Often the first engineering course students take after freshman physics, it requires solving thorny math-based problems, as well as grasping tough concepts. But Statics is typically taught in lecture halls to hundreds at once, whereas active learning works best in small classes.

Enter Paul S. Steif, a professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, and Anna Dollár, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Miami University, Ohio. They’ve developed pioneering online courseware for Statics that uses computer- and Web-based technologies — particularly interactive virtual tutors, as well as simulations and real-time assessments — to embed active-learning techniques into lecture-hall-size classes. And results so far look good.

Use of virtual tutors is still somewhat virgin territory, even amid an explosion of digital technology in education. Steif and Dollár are the first to combine the technology into a progressive narrative that covers an entire course.

“Theirs is very developed. It’s actually an online textbook,” says Christine Valle, director of the Women in Engineering program at Georgia Tech and a member of a team of virtual-tutor researchers. Autar Kaw, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of South Florida who also designs engineering courseware, says, “When it comes to virtual tutors . . . no others are at the level of Paul and Anna’s.”

How does the Steif-Dollár Statics course work?
Outside of class, relative concepts, skills, and methods are explained to students in online modules using text, graphics, videos and animated simulations — some interactive, some not. Next, students are given 10 to 15 problems to solve, or learn-by-doing exercises, each broken down into easy-to-grasp pieces. Each quiz also includes a walkthrough that employs animation. And here students are guided by virtual tutors — the courseware contains around 300 of them — that offer hints and feedback. When students get a correct answer, they’re given an encouraging “Good job,” but also an explanation of why the answer was correct -- just in case they made a lucky guess or got a right answer but took a wrong route. If students make a mistake, sometimes they’re given a generic “That’s wrong”; other times they may get a more detailed response.

‘Did I get this?’
Students can also receive hints. The tutor reminds them of the underlying principle, shows how that principle is linked to the problem at hand, and can actually provide answers, showing graphically how they were achieved. Some of the tutors also employ “scaffolding,” a process that runs a student through a series of mini-steps to a solution. Students can redo problems as many times as they want. “It is very self-paced, self-regulating learning,” Dollár says – a luxury lecture halls usually don’t afford.

If a student feels he or she has mastered a concept after completing half the problems in a module, the rest can be skipped. How do students know if they’ve nailed it? The program also has a “Did I Get This?” feature that instantly provides an assessment of how well they understand the concept at hand.

The self-assessment software spares students the embarrassment of admitting ignorance in front of classmates. “No one wants to raise their hand to say, ‘I don’t get this,’” says computer engineering junior Shiloh Womack, one of Dollár’s students. And yet if students don’t request an explanation, they risk making a mistake on homework or, worse still, in an exam. With the self-assessment application, “you can see right away if you got it or not,” says Womack. However, it’s important that students use it; Steif and Dollár have found that students who made the greatest use of the self-assessment tool later had significantly higher exam and in-class quiz scores than students who eschewed the self-assessment activities or did very few of them.

For instructors, the courseware includes a “learning dashboard” with aggregate and individual data from the whole class. Immediately, a teacher can see if there are areas that have stumped large portions of the class. Data will show where students made the most mistakes and which learning objectives gave them the most trouble, Dollár explains. That pinpoint knowledge allows instructors to spend valuable class time on vexing topics, not on material most students have mastered. It also frees them to spend more time on design projects or demonstrations that go beyond basic understanding. “I can take things to a higher level in class,” Dollár says. “I am in the class for the difficult problems.”

Steif and Dollár’s courseware is based on another teaching method that’s gaining traction among educators: the inverted classroom, where students use study time going over materials, — often delivered as videoed lectures, — that traditionally would have been presented in class. Class time can instead be devoted to discussions or projects.

A ‘huge push’ for innovations
Smart, resourceful students know how to ace exams by memorizing information and formulas, while utterly failing to understand the concepts behind them. “We are certainly very aware of that,” Steif says. So he and Dollár drew from a Statics Concept Inventory that Steif developed based on test results from many institutions. “That gave us a good understanding of what common misconceptions students have,” Dollár says. “It is really impossible to answer a question correctly if you don’t understand the principle underlying it.”

Dollár thinks that the software’s greatest selling point is its round-the-clock accessibility. “The most important thing is it’s always there. It’s 24/7.” Georgia Tech’s Valle says online-based teaching tools also fit students’ digital lifestyles. “Students are so used to virtual, online worlds. That’s why there’s a huge push to capitalize on online innovations.”

Steif and Dollár designed the Statics course at the request of CMU’s Open Learning Initiative (OLI), which develops intelligent tutoring systems, virtual labs, and simulations to give students in a variety of disciplines more opportunities for feedback and assessment. Both use the courseware, as do instructors at around 10 other schools. It’s free and requires very little setup, apart from teachers having to register their students.

Beyond Statics, Steif and Dollár believe their Web-based, inverted-classroom software could be readily adapted to many other engineering courses, particularly those typically taught in lecture halls. Steif cautions, however, that “it is sometimes challenging to convert desirable student activities into ones that can be done — and can be evaluated — by the computer.” Their approach points to a new direction in engineering education, they say.

Shiloh Womack’s verdict? “It’s awesome.”





JEE Selects

Why They’re Leaving

To Retain Students, Help Them
Feel They “Belong”

By Kelly A. Rodgers
and Rose M. Marra

Perhaps because of the overall accountability wave sweeping higher education, there appears to be renewed focus on those vintage buzzwords “retention,” “attrition,” and “persistence.” Institutions are concerned with not only attracting students but also supporting them to degree completion. In few disciplines is this of more critical interest than engineering programs, many of which do not graduate enough students to meet workforce demand. If we are suffering a decrease in interest in engineering, then we must be vigilant in retaining those who do enter — especially women and students from underrepresented ethnic groups who are particularly vulnerable to high attrition rates in engineering programs.

The vulnerability of engineering students, particularly when compared with those in non-STEM-related fields, has been addressed in the literature. Researchers have largely pointed to three factors threatening the retention of students in engineering: engineering “climate,” academic preparation, and students’ self-efficacy and motivation. The suggestion has been that the persistence of our most vulnerable populations, women and underrepresented minority students, may be especially sensitive to these factors.

In our study, we wanted to understand how these factors played into a non-retained student’s decision to either migrate into another major or leave college altogether. Consistent with the research, we identified three factors that influenced students to leave engineering. Two were academic: difficulty of the engineering curriculum and poor teaching/advising. The other was more attitudinal and involved a lack of “belonging.” The roles that these factors played in decisions to leave engineering were both expected and surprising. The higher a student’s GPA, for example, the less curriculum difficulty factored into the decision to leave. For most students, however, the feeling that they didn’t “belong” in engineering was the biggest determining factor. This was especially true for students of color, for whom the lack of belonging and curriculum difficulty were more influential in their decision to leave than they were for Caucasians. In fact, the lack-of-belonging factor was especially key in understanding the failure of some students to persist in engineering despite robust GPAs and positive perception about the difficulty of the curriculum and quality of the teaching and advising. The more students felt they did not belong in engineering, the lower their GPAs were. Not surprisingly, those students who did not feel they belonged in engineering switched to non-technical majors.

The findings relating to students’ perception of teaching and advising were somewhat troublesome. Those who did not feel their high school education had prepared them for engineering courses were more likely to cite poor teaching and advising as influencing their decisions to leave. This relationship became stronger the longer students remained in engineering.

Our findings provide a few points for intervention. Engineering programs need to concern themselves not only with academics but also the social side of the engineering experience. On the academic side, great care needs to be taken with those students who enter engineering with weaker high school preparation than their peers. Programs might also revisit their teaching methods and advisement procedures to ensure that they truly offer students the assistance that they need to be successful. We did not examine the specific aspects of advising and teaching practices that were especially problematic, but this information is important for programs hoping to revisit and revitalize their procedures.

On the social side, inclusiveness should be not only a goal for engineering programs but also a demonstrated priority by creating a variety of welcoming social spaces, especially for women and minority students. Through these methods and with additional research, we can find ways to attract and retain students desiring engineering careers.

Kelly A. Rodgers is an assistant professor of educational psychology at the City University of New York. Rose M. Marra is an associate professor of learning technologies at the University of Missouri’s School of Information Science and Technologies. This is excerpted from “Leaving Engineering: A Multi-Year Single-Institution Study,” in the January 2012 Journal of Engineering Education.





Job-hunting? Here are a few current openings:

1. Chair -- 3 opportunities

2. Engineering Education -- 1 opportunity

3. Materials Science and Engineering -- 2 opportunities

Visit here for details:




VI. Free Webinars for Engineering Educators

Integrating Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE) Tools into Existing Engineering Courses
Teaching the 21st Century Engineer

Presented by Autodesk, Inc., and ASEE

Thursday, March 22, 2012
2–3 p.m. eastern time

Intended Audience:
Mechanical engineering professors and educators of undergraduate and graduate engineering students

Computer-aided engineering (CAE) software tools are essential to the modern design process, increasing the productivity of engineers by improving their ability to solve complex problems. The objective of the Autodesk Engineering Exploration Workshop is to increase the understanding of students and practicing engineers of how these tools work.

The workshop emphasizes the integration of CAE tools into existing engineering courses to enhance course curricula. Workshop modules address the theory, numerical methods, and application of engineering concepts within the context of Autodesk® simulation and analysis solutions. These concepts are offered in a modular format that is easy to integrate into existing curricula.

Register at:


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


Making project-based learning easy and affordable

Discover how universities are using MATLAB® and Simulink® with Arduino, Beagle Board, Lego Mindstorms, and other very affordable hardware to teach control theory, mechatronics, circuit design, robotics, and other disciplines.

Free On Demand

Register Now





ASEE Action

ASEE Action

For more information on work at ASEE headquarters and activities of our members and partner institutions, visit the regularly updated ASEE Action.

ASEE Action

World Engineering Education Forum
WEEF 2012

Submit an abstract to the World Engineering Education Forum WEEF 2012, to be held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on October 15th - 18th, 2012.

The deadline for abstract submission is March 2, 2012.  You can download the complete CFP document here.  You can upload your abstract here





ASEE K-12 Workshop - Proposals Sought

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

    April 1, 2012, 8:00 AM - 3:00 PM

    April 19, 2012
    8:00 AM - 3:00 PM




Coming up in the March 2012 edition of Prism magazine:

COVER STORY: Extraction of Alberta’s oil sands has roiled environmentalists and become an election year flashpoint in the United States. Meanwhile, at the University of Alberta, some 1,000 researchers are trying to make the process more efficient and cleaner.

FEATURE 1: A look at the new technologies emerging from the Bill Gates-sponsored Reinvent the Toilet challenge.

FEATURE 2: Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, seems to have discovered the secret of keeping underrepresented minorities in the STEM field. What is it?

Read the current issue of Prism magazine





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