Connections - A Newsletter for Engineering Education

JANUARY 2008
Providing interesting and useful information for engineering faculty. To subscribe click here.

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In this Issue:

I. Databytes

  • Undergrad Civil Engineering Degrees Awarded by School (Top 50), 2006

II. Congressional Hotline

  • CONGRESS EYES AN ECONOMIC SHOT IN THE ARM; MORTGAGE AND PATENT REFORMS PROMISED
  • ENERGY, PART DEUX
  • HIGHER ED RENEWAL NEARS COMPLETION
  • DELAYED DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION EXPECTED TO PASS QUICKLY

III. Teaching Toolbox

  • The Science of Fun — Engineers know how to have a good time. Just look at all the entertainment engineering programs sprouting up around the country

IV.  JEE Selects

  • The Habit of Learning - A WPI study explores whether experiential education produces self-directed students.

V. Fellowship Programs

  • The Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) Postdoctoral Fellowship Program
  • NASA Aeronautics Scholarship Program
     

I. Databytes

 

Undergrad Civil Engineering Degrees Awarded by School

 

 

 

 

1.

Texas A&M University

203

2.

Purdue University

180

3.

California Poly. State Univ., SLO

176

4.

Pennsylvania State University

167

5.

North Carolina State University

166

6.

Georgia Institute of Technology

156

7.

Polytechnic Univ. of Puerto Rico

150

8.

Virginia Tech

145

9.

University of Florida

136

10.

Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

113

11.

Michigan Technological University

111

12.

Auburn University

108

13.

California State Poly. U., Pomona

105

13.

University of Washington

105

15.

University of California Davis

103

16.

University of California Berkeley

102

16.

Univ. of Wisconsin Madison

102

18.

Clemson University

97

18.

Univ. of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez

97

20.

Brigham Young University

96

21.

University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

94

22.

University of Central Florida

92

22.

Iowa State University

92

24.

University of California San Diego

87

25.

University of Kentucky

84

26.

North Dakota State University

83

27.

University of Texas, Austin

82

27.

Utah State University

82

29.

FAMU-FSU College of Eng.

81

30.

University of Missouri, Rolla

78

31.

Colorado State University

77

31.

Ohio State University

77

33.

San Diego State University

75

34.

Michigan State University

72

35.

Oregon State University

71

35.

University of Pittsburgh

71

37.

Florida International University

70

38.

Louisiana State University

67

39.

Texas Tech University

64

40.

Montana State University

63

41.

University of Texas, San Antonio

62

42.

Clarkson University

61

42.

SUNY, Buffalo

61

42.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute

61

45.

Northeastern University

60

45.

University of Tennessee, Knoxville

60

45.

University of Utah

60

48.

University of Nebraska, Lincoln

59

48.

Univ. of North Carolina, Charlotte

59

50.

Manhattan College

58

50.

Univ. of Maryland, College Park

58

 

211 total schools reported

 

Back to the index.

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II. Congressional Hotline

CONGRESS EYES AN ECONOMIC SHOT IN THE ARM; MORTGAGE AND PATENT REFORMS PROMISED

With Democratic leaders hungry to press their domestic policy agenda amid deepening bipartisan concern for the state of the US economy, outlines of an economic stimulus package have begun to emerge. While Democrats favor a boost in funding for food stamps and an extension of unemployment insurance, and Republicans have called for tax breaks for businesses (generally in the form of equipment write-offs), members of both parties have expressed support for tax rebates (likely between $200 and $600). An offsetting tax increase to pay for the package, favored by fiscally conservative Democrats, is viewed as unlikely given widespread Republican opposition.

With the housing market in an historic cycle of decline tied to over-speculation, miscalculated risk and questionable lending practices, enormous mortgage-linked losses on Wall Street and a steady increase in interest rates have pinched borrowers and tightened lending standards. Coupled with high energy prices and stagnant jobs numbers, 2008 has begun as a difficult year for consumers and middle-income borrowers, leading many in Congress to push for federal help. To that end, Congress has begun to spar over differing versions of an overhaul of the Federal Housing Administration, as well as a raft of regulatory proposals aimed to help struggling subprime borrowers.

Meanwhile, Senate consideration of the House-passed Patent Reform Act of 2007 is expected to intensify over the early part of 2008. Major technology firms, including Intel, Microsoft, IBM and Apple, have increasingly sought legislative avenues for limiting the power of small patent holders and patent “trolls” who restrain their ability to market similar technologies. On the other side, small businesses, venture capitalists and inventors have joined forces with the pharmaceutical industry to fight the changes.

ENERGY, PART DEUX
With record crude oil, gasoline and heating oil prices, Congressional Democrats are gearing up for another round of energy proposals aimed at promoting alternative energy sources. Many of the proposed fixes that were left behind by last year’s giant energy bill are expected to be a part of a second push. In addition, climate-change bills that have advanced in both the House and Senate are expected to hit the floor sometime this spring. A cap-and-trade carbon emissions bill has shown the potential to garner bipartisan support.
 

HIGHER ED RENEWAL NEARS COMPLETION
Despite long odds Democrats have vowed to put up a fight to fix and reauthorize the landmark ‘No Child Left Behind’ education law. Renewal of the Higher Education Act, on the other hand, is pointed to by Democrats as an election-year winner. 

DELAYED DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION EXPECTED TO PASS QUICKLY
The Senate is expected to pass a revised defense authorization bill this month that was unexpectedly vetoed by President Bush. Concerns that a provision of the bill could have frozen Iraqi government assets held in US financial institutions as collateral for lawsuits linked to the actions of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein led to strong objections from the Iraqi government that in turn led to the Bush veto. The House passed the revised measure on Wednesday.

 Back to the index.


III. Teaching Toolbox

The Science of Fun

By Linda Creighton

The fierce steam-covered head of a dragon rose ominously from its berth on the stage of the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas to spew real fire and sparks into the cowering, screaming audience. Then, wobbling feebly from side to side, the head snapped off and rolled into gasping onlookers as distraught on-stage magicians watched helplessly. "That," Robert Boehm said to himself, "seems like a controls problem."

For the next 14 years, as a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV), Boehm went behind the scenes at many of the city's increasingly lavish and technically complex entertainment shows, but he never forgot the dragon head. That is one of the reasons Boehm, along with a growing number of educators, is convinced that a degree blending art and engineering—entertainment technology—can help to meet the challenge of a worldwide entertainment revolution.

Theme parks, sports venues, and theater productions have morphed special effects, robotics, sound systems, and animation into a booming business.
The Las Vegas market alone is sustaining nearly $1 billion in production costs for three state-of-the-art entertainment extravaganzas: MGM Grand's new Cirque du Soleil "KÀ" production, Caesars Palace's year-old Celine Dion show, and The Venetian's "Phantom of the Opera."

The video game industry, nonexistent 25 years ago, now commands an amazing $18 billion market worldwide. It's estimated that 145 million Americans play computer and video games. The industry has the potential to add 5,000 new jobs annually.

As Americans and the rest of the world have come to expect entertainment at every level of society, from shopping malls to museums, the staggering technical challenges have fueled the need for a hybrid artist/engineer. And for those schools looking for guidance in this new field, there is a star to follow.

You can't get much farther psychologically from Las Vegas than Pittsburgh, but that is exactly where new ground in entertainment technology education was broken. Five years ago, Carnegie Mellon University fine arts professor Don Marinelli and computer science professor Robert Pausch started the two-year master of entertainment technology degree program. "Don Marinelli is spectacular, but he is everything I am not," Pausch says. "And that's a tangible signal to our students that you should be able to work with people who are radically different than you are."

Pausch says the Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) is merely the most aggressive example of Carnegie Mellon's history of putting disciplines together in unusual ways. "We have some of the best fine art and best technology education in the world under one roof," he says, "so when there are all these signals in the world to put those together, we walk the walk instead of talking the talk."

The basic mantra of the program is: Everybody is an equal partner. Of the roughly 50 students admitted each year, half are from the technology field and half from the nontechnology. "We created something that forces artists and engineers to work together," Pausch says.

For starters, that means no traditional methods. No lectures. No regular classes. No separation. The curriculum is purely project-based. Four semesters long, the program's courses are highly unconventional. They include: Visual Story, learning the basics of visual language from film and how it applies to interactive media; Introduction to Entertainment Technology, a dramatic analysis of video games; and Building Virtual Worlds, five different team challenges in building a virtual reality project. Field trips include the Cruise to Nowhere, a three-day boat trip simulating total immersion in an experience that students must evaluate in an essay; and a trip to California to visit entertainment big shots Industrial Light and Magic, Disney Imagineering, and Rock Star Entertainment.

For the last three semesters, students are assigned to teams of four, five, or six students with a faculty member in which their only goal is completing a big project. This, Pausch and Marinelli say, is the heart of the whole course. "You give them a problem that is so hard it requires all of their skills to solve it, and you give them no time. At that point, they're in the foxhole together," Pausch says. They must produce an entertainment experience ready to go, work that stands alone.

Two of the projects are HazMat, which uses video-game methods to simulate tactical situations in training the New York City antiterrorism teams, and the Augumented Cognition Group, which involves creating a wireless virtual environment to enhance foot soldiers' experience in combat.

In addition to an aggregate grade and individual grades on the projects, students meet with faculty members three times each semester for feedback on their attitudes, their interaction with other students in the program, and the way they present themselves. "We tell them, ‘This is what your boss would say to his or her spouse about you,' " Pausch says.

The ETC degree program achieves virtually full employment, with the giant video game company Electronic Arts hiring almost 40 percent of the graduating class in the past two years, a fact that Pausch says underscores the program's focus on employment rather than faculty research. ETC's good relationships with industry leaders Electronic Arts and Disney Imagineering include written agreements for hiring at least 10 interns a year. While more than 50 percent of ETC graduates work in the video-game industry, the remainder work in museums, higher education, and nonprofit fields. "They apply the principles of creating entertainment content toward noble goals as well as commercial goals," Pausch says.

Location, Location, Location

Within high-heel walking distance of the "Strip" in Sin City, the University of Nevada-Las Vegas is hoping to establish an undergraduate degree in entertainment technology for two reasons: A ballooning market for designers grounded in technical problem solving, and elevation of the 1,500-student university to national recognition. "Las Vegas is probably the biggest lab for entertainment engineering in the country," says Dean Eric Sandgren, who himself will teach a visualization course. Mechanical engineering professor Boehm, an ardent supporter of the courses being offered at UNLV, agrees. "Theater people believe anything can be done, and engineers anticipate problems, so putting them together gives you the best of both worlds."

"The technology is enormous," says Anthony Ricotta, production manager for the world-famous "O" Cirque du Soleil show at the Bellagio Hotel in Vegas. A 1.5 million-gallon pool with an internal elevator that can rise 25 feet in eight seconds was built to specs for the jaw-dropping show. "Today's scenic elements have to be such a big ‘Wow,' no one really knows whether they will work until they're built." That, Ricotta says, is where entertainment and engineering merge for the future. "Theater engineering has always been clunky and noisy, when it should look like magic."

Support for the UNLV program and others like it is strong within the entertainment industry. Kent Bingham, president and CEO of Entertainment Engineering Inc. of Burbank, Calif., helped formulate the program's curriculum and has been a guest lecturer. A Berkeley-trained civil engineer, Bingham was chief structural engineer for Disney's Epcot Center and has worked on some of Las Vegas' biggest lures. Bingham says the program at UNLV illustrates the most important lesson an engineer can learn. "Imagination is like a sleeping giant which, when awakened, lets you do things that normal architects and engineers cannot."

At the University of Missouri-Rolla, a new program combining the performing arts and engineering will enroll its first students in fall 2005. Dean Robert Mitchell thinks the program could draw more students into engineering, including women. "They follow their passions," he says of prospective students, citing a student who loved calculus and explosives who came to him and asked if the program would cover special effects. "Edison would be overwhelmed," he laughs.

Interdisciplinary programs such as SUDAC at Stanford University, the MIT Media Laboratory, and Georgia Tech's Information, Design & Technology are all highly regarded and thriving. Areas of specialty such as animation, digital media, gaming, themed entertainment, and virtual reality are targeted by programs at the University of Pennsylvania, Rensselaer, University of Southern California, and Purdue, among many others.

As the worlds of entertainment and technology expand and merge, opportunities for engineers grow exponentially. Jim Seay, the 44-year-old president and owner of theme-park ride and design firm Premier Rides in Millersville, Md., is a at the forefront of this new universe. A Cornell engineering graduate, he worked in the aerospace industry until the bubble burst in the '80s and designers of cruise missiles moved to Disney to become Imagineers. Seay hooked up with the company that developed Six Flags theme parks and 10 years ago started his own firm, a wildly successful venture that has brought him international recognition for, among other designs, the "Return of the Mummy" ride at Universal Studios in Orlando and in Hollywood. Using the same technology used in futuristic magnetic levitation trains, the ride's linear induction motors blast riders 1.5Gs uphill through 2,000-degree fire, with space-age robotics, ultraviolet black light technology, projected CGI animation, and advanced animatronics.

Seay applauds the increase in entertainment technology training. "Those who aspire to that kind of degree have the ability to be creative technical leaders," he says. Seay's firm is part of the Cornell internship program, and some of the students have been hired for his unique enterprise. "We're up there interviewing right alongside IBM," Seay notes, "and our salaries are competitive." The world is changing by the second, Seay says, citing his daily instant messages to his newly opened office in Beijing. "It's hard to comprehend the development happening there, and how educated the Chinese are about entertainment possibilities."

The future for the right engineers in a country of more than a billion people? That, as they say, is entertainment.

 Back to the index.


IV. JEE Selects

The Habit of Learning

By Scott Jiusto and David DiBasio

Academics often “teach their research,” but few “research their teaching,” at least formally, for a host of good reasons, not least being the investment required to become conversant in theories and methodologies outside one’s primary academic community. However, with rapid change in the practice of engineering spurring new educational requirements and approaches to teaching, there is ample opportunity and need for those interested in educational research to provide insight into effective pedagogy.

At Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), much of our teaching is connected with the Global Perspective Program, an experiential learning program that has third-year students conducting intensive, interdisciplinary research projects for sponsoring organizations in Puerto Rico, Thailand, Australia, Namibia, England and other places worldwide. The goals of the program are ambitious, among them developing student capacity to research real, open-ended challenges at the interface of technology and society and in the process to develop capacities for teamwork, written and oral communication, critical thinking and cross-cultural appreciation and collaboration.

A large cohort of some 350 global program student participants per year provides ample opportunity to better understand this primarily inductively-taught, constructivist learning process. We recently completed research assessing whether the program effectively develops student capacity in a number of these areas so as to prepare them to become self-directed, lifelong learners (SDLL).

The research process generated insight into educational programming and research methodology, and helped us see new opportunities as teachers to support student development.

Anything as complex and inherently prospective as student capacity for SDLL raises methodological challenges. We addressed these challenges through a triangulated research protocol involving two widely used instruments for student self-assessment of learning and growth, and one instrument based on independent faculty review of student work.

The results suggested strong student development on key SDLL-related capacities. However, some indicators were less emphatic than others, depending on the instrument. One concern is that some highly self-directed learners entering the program are at risk for regression, as may be students at non-English-speaking locations. Because self-directed and life-long learning are complex psycho-social phenomena, and because our triangulated research strategy depended on three overlapping but not directly comparable methods, divergent findings might result from how the tests were administered, how SDL is operationalized in each, or both.

The results raised important questions about the relationships among our ambitious learning goals, student preparation, context, sojourn length, persistent effects, and program structure. The results have implications for assessing the effectiveness of innovative educational programs designed to meet non-technical learning objectives that are increasingly recognized as essential elements in engineering education.

The research has also contributed to changes in how we prepare and advise students through their project experience. For one, the possibility that intensive, cross-cultural, open-ended project work might, for a few students, reduce their confidence in undertaking self-directed learning is something we knew was possible from other research.This concern sensitized us to the more general need for helping students process their experiences after the projects have ended.

Given the uniqueness of the experience for students and the many ways in which we hope they will grow—including in areas like “critical thinking” that may be difficult for students even to recognize—we believe there is valuable student learning and development potential to be had from relatively small investments in such post-project reflective activities as structured conversations and short introspective essays. In implementing such strategies, we expect also to generate new questions and devise new, practical ways to continue educational research that complements our other academic pursuits.

Scott Jiusto is assistant professor of geography in Interdisciplinary and Global Studies at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. David DiBiasio is associate professor and department head of Chemical Engineering at WPI. This article is adapted from “Experiential Learning Environments: Do They Prepare Our Students to be Self-Directed, Life-Long Learners?” in the July, 2006 JEE.

Back to the index.


V. Fellowship Programs

Postdoctoral

The Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) Postdoctoral Fellowship Program.  This program is open to U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents and offers a competitive stipend as well as insurance, relocation, and travel allowances.  The program offers one to three-year postdoctoral fellowships designed to increase the involvement of scientists and engineers from academia and industry to scientific and technical areas of interest and relevance to the Navy.  The program has a rolling admission.  Go to: http://www.asee.org/nrl/ .

Undergraduate/Graduate Fellowship

NASA Aeronautics Scholarship Program. The purpose is to meet the continuing needs of the nation's aeronautics and space effort by increasing the number of highly trained scientists and engineers in aeronautics and related disciplines. Scholarships awarded include competitive stipend payments anticipated amount for undergrad up to $15,000 and up to $35,000 for graduate. There is an option to attend a summer internship (up to $10,000 per summer) at a participating NASA Research Center. The undergraduate program is open to U.S. citizens, applicants should have completed their sophomore year of college by Fall of 2008, and should be in good standing at an accredited college or university. The graduate program is open to U.S. citizens, the applicants should be be accepted or enrolled in an accredited program, and remain in good academic standing at their respected college or university. Website and online application will be open in mid-December, 2007. For more information, contact nasa.asp@asee.org

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