The opportunity to improve the teaching of engineering problem-solving and design skills can be met by implementing complementary chemical process simulation workshops for students in introductory courses (i.e., First-year Engineering Design, Material and Energy Balances, etc.). Engineering problem-solving and design skills allow students to apply their technical chemical engineering knowledge to produce useful and profitable products to society. However, these skills are traditionally taught in the senior year as part of capstone requirements. This leaves first-year, and sophomore students without enough experiences to develop a chemical engineering mindset (attitude) while practicing "actual" engineering work. Process simulators such as UniSim, HYSYS and ASPEN Plus are generally introduced in senior-level design and unit operations courses which are critical in the industry but will only be familiarized with it upon graduation.
The proposed professional development workshops invite students to engage voluntarily in online instructional videos independently and then partake in design tutorials in a collaborative setting. Ten video training will be hosted prior to meeting in-person. Video lessons will focus on completing simulation exercises that introduce unit operations (e.g., Reactors, Pumps, Heaters, Coolers, Mixers, and Tees), common industry equipment, and processes. Modeling and simulation of these processes are facilitated by using UniSim tools. Each face-to-face workshop will require students to work on team projects using their applied knowledge to solve simulation exercises at a higher level. To foster an engineering mindset, they must use introductory concepts of process economics and optimization techniques to make recommendations about their work.
This work in progress will explore to what extent student attitudes towards chemical engineering changes if problem-solving and design skills are practiced earlier the curriculum. Traditionally, engineering educators have focused assessments around students’ mastery of content knowledge and skills. However, previous studies suggest that student attitudes comprise another essential component of the evaluation. To assess the engineering mindset on student participants, we will use an already validated pre- and post- questionnaire and open ended-questions to examine how attitudes before and after being impacted by the professional development workshops. This work will provide with valuable information for measuring chemical engineering mindset for curriculum evaluation and improvement.
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