Saturday, February 27, 2010

Engineering Education Outreach: Are We Doing Everything That Matters?

By Cindy Veenstra (PhD IOE ’08)

The process of earning my doctorate led me to think about how we apply research in practice and how we incorporate that practice back into research, especially as it relates to engineering education. I saw that there’s a critical lack of emphasis on incorporating practice back into research, especially related to K-12 outreach. So I’ve posed a question: Are we doing all we can with the resources we have?

It turns out that applying research to practice is a hot topic in the academic world.

For example, the Division of Student Affairs is sponsoring a symposium in May on “theory to practice.” The current ASEE project, “Creating a Culture of Scholarly and Systematic Innovation in Engineering Education,” focuses on the process of collaboration for applying research to the process of systematically innovating the education of future engineers.

Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of the Lumina Foundation for Education, indicates that there are many stakeholders who must be involved for the U.S. to achieve Lumina’s “Big Goal” of 60 percent of Americans earning a high-quality college degree by 2025 (currently this rate is 40 percent). Although Merisotis is referring to the graduation rate of all students, the engineering community is well aware of its need to increase the number of its graduates and to include many more minorities and women among those graduates. The national six-year graduation rate of engineering students is about 55 percent of those students who enroll in engineering. (By the way, Michigan Engineering is a leader in student success with a six-year graduation rate of 80 percent.)

My research, as well as that of others, has shown that academic preparation in math and sciences in high school prepares an engineering student for academic success in our engineering colleges. Yet the percent of high-school graduates who are sufficiently prepared remains low. Interest in an engineering major also remains low (about 10 percent) among all college freshmen enrolled in bachelor-degree programs. Additionally, the percent of freshman women and minority students in engineering continues to be significantly less than that of the overall traditional college-age population.

I’m pleased that Michigan Engineering has been a leader in its efforts in K-12 outreach, devoting its resources to high-school outreach in the local community. Michigan Engineering hosted the “Summit on Diversity and Opportunity in K-16” in October 2009 at which deans, faculty and staff from engineering colleges in Michigan, K-12 teachers and other interested stakeholders in the community were invited to attend. I participated and found the effort to be impressive. Brainstorming sessions gathered new ideas for encouraging students to consider and be successful in the STEM disciplines.

On the basis of these discussions, the deans of Michigan engineering colleges developed a white paper with recommendations for “increasing the number of high-school graduates, particularly from under-served communities, who are prepared to succeed in four-year engineering colleges.” One of the goals outlined for the K-12 engineering education curricula is to “enhance students’ learning of math and science” and improve the State’s math and science scores – definitely a worthy objective, given that only 11 percent of Michigan students scored 27 or higher in the 2009 ACT, which is the generally accepted preparedness benchmark for passing Calculus I, a gateway course in freshman engineering.

So I’ll pose my question again: Are we doing all we can with the resources we have? Lumina has indicated that we need to seek out all stakeholders, and I believe we need to consider all disciplines, blending research and practice together in a meaningful, effective way. We need to think about how research can improve the practice of K-12 education and how the lessons learned in practice by superintendents of successful school systems can feed back to generate research questions.

As the deans indicated, the key to preparing more engineers for the workforce involves a partnership with the K-12 school systems for systemic change. I believe Michigan Engineering and the other engineering colleges in the state should apply their leadership and experience to this effort, increasing the academic preparation of students for college in general and engineering college in particular, and decreasing the K-12 dropout rate. (If students drop out of K-12, we have lost potential college students.)

Figure 1
What are the best practices for this challenge? There are several fundamental approaches that can guide our efforts. As a volunteer leader of the American Society for Quality (ASQ), I’ll take a moment to share a few of the fundamentals its members apply to efforts in K-12 continuous improvement. I’ve attended conferences where K12 school systems tell their success story, and they generally frame their work around the straightforward Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycle, shown in Figure 1.

Applying this model is simple. Decide on a set of goals, use the strengths of the school system to align the organization to those goals, make data-driven decisions, and study the results to determine opportunities for continuous improvement. The PDSA model can be followed to increase the number of K-12 students interested in engineering and decrease dropout rates You can enhance the effectiveness of this approach by involving not only individual teachers but also their entire classes, building commitment to learning goals, brainstorming new ideas, and encouraging students to rely on data when making decisions related to their learning success.

This PDSA cycle is the central idea for another key approach to improvement, the Baldrige Education Criteria for Performance Excellence, administered by NIST with support from ASQ. Many K-16 educational organizations use its framework to improve their processes, and the actual award application process provides invaluable feedback for continuous improvement. The ideas of Baldrige are consistent with the ideas of quality engineering and management. Many of the concepts are based on the writings of W. Edwards Deming and Joseph Juran.

Baldrige-based efforts start with a school’s leaders defining the mission and goals, focusing strategic plans on students, faculty and all other stakeholders; improvement metrics and monitoring progress are essential. I find it particularly exciting that the framework incorporates the concept of a learning organization and relies on self-assessment to help each school develop a unique path forward, rather than prescribing a one-size-fits-all approach. Some Michigan school systems have used the Baldrige framework successfully. I recommend that you review the experiences of the 2008 Baldrige winner, the Iredell-Stateville (NC) school district, in the article, “What Matters Most.”

I’ll also suggest that you check out the report generated from ASQ’s 2009 Leadership Summit for Superintendents, which shares participants’ ideas on systemic improvement.

We have a very serious challenge with our current education system. Applying the principles and approaches of PDSA and the Baldrige framework for continuous improvement is an important component of educational leadership outreach for collaboration between engineering colleges and K-12 school systems. Additionally, what we learn from these continuous improvement efforts we must use to generate research questions for further study.

You can get involved in this vital work by participating in the panel session I’m organizing for the ASEE annual conference this summer on “Systems Thinking Using Baldrige in Engineering Colleges.” I hope you will choose to join our efforts to make a difference.

Veenstra
Cindy Veenstra, PhD, is director of Veenstra and Associates. Her PhD research was on “Modeling Freshman Engineering Success.” She is on the board of the ASEE College-Industry Partnerships Division and chair-elect for the ASQ Education Division. She is also associate editor for the new journal Quality Approaches in Higher Education.

She can be reached at cpveenst@umich.edu

Engineering Education Outreach: Are We Doing Everything That Matters?

By Cindy Veenstra (PhD IOE ’08)

The process of earning my doctorate led me to think about how we apply research in practice and how we incorporate that practice back into research, especially as it relates to engineering education. I saw that there’s a critical lack of emphasis on incorporating practice back into research, especially related to K-12 outreach. So I’ve posed a question: Are we doing all we can with the resources we have?

It turns out that applying research to practice is a hot topic in the academic world.

For example, the Division of Student Affairs is sponsoring a symposium in May on “theory to practice.” The current ASEE project, “Creating a Culture of Scholarly and Systematic Innovation in Engineering Education,” focuses on the process of collaboration for applying research to the process of systematically innovating the education of future engineers.

Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of the Lumina Foundation for Education, indicates that there are many stakeholders who must be involved for the U.S. to achieve Lumina’s “Big Goal” of 60 percent of Americans earning a high-quality college degree by 2025 (currently this rate is 40 percent). Although Merisotis is referring to the graduation rate of all students, the engineering community is well aware of its need to increase the number of its graduates and to include many more minorities and women among those graduates. The national six-year graduation rate of engineering students is about 55 percent of those students who enroll in engineering. (By the way, Michigan Engineering is a leader in student success with a six-year graduation rate of 80 percent.)

My research, as well as that of others, has shown that academic preparation in math and sciences in high school prepares an engineering student for academic success in our engineering colleges. Yet the percent of high-school graduates who are sufficiently prepared remains low. Interest in an engineering major also remains low (about 10 percent) among all college freshmen enrolled in bachelor-degree programs. Additionally, the percent of freshman women and minority students in engineering continues to be significantly less than that of the overall traditional college-age population.

I’m pleased that Michigan Engineering has been a leader in its efforts in K-12 outreach, devoting its resources to high-school outreach in the local community. Michigan Engineering hosted the “Summit on Diversity and Opportunity in K-16” in October 2009 at which deans, faculty and staff from engineering colleges in Michigan, K-12 teachers and other interested stakeholders in the community were invited to attend. I participated and found the effort to be impressive. Brainstorming sessions gathered new ideas for encouraging students to consider and be successful in the STEM disciplines.

On the basis of these discussions, the deans of Michigan engineering colleges developed a white paper with recommendations for “increasing the number of high-school graduates, particularly from under-served communities, who are prepared to succeed in four-year engineering colleges.” One of the goals outlined for the K-12 engineering education curricula is to “enhance students’ learning of math and science” and improve the State’s math and science scores – definitely a worthy objective, given that only 11 percent of Michigan students scored 27 or higher in the 2009 ACT, which is the generally accepted preparedness benchmark for passing Calculus I, a gateway course in freshman engineering.

So I’ll pose my question again: Are we doing all we can with the resources we have? Lumina has indicated that we need to seek out all stakeholders, and I believe we need to consider all disciplines, blending research and practice together in a meaningful, effective way. We need to think about how research can improve the practice of K-12 education and how the lessons learned in practice by superintendents of successful school systems can feed back to generate research questions.

As the deans indicated, the key to preparing more engineers for the workforce involves a partnership with the K-12 school systems for systemic change. I believe Michigan Engineering and the other engineering colleges in the state should apply their leadership and experience to this effort, increasing the academic preparation of students for college in general and engineering college in particular, and decreasing the K-12 dropout rate. (If students drop out of K-12, we have lost potential college students.)

Figure 1
What are the best practices for this challenge? There are several fundamental approaches that can guide our efforts. As a volunteer leader of the American Society for Quality (ASQ), I’ll take a moment to share a few of the fundamentals its members apply to efforts in K-12 continuous improvement. I’ve attended conferences where K12 school systems tell their success story, and they generally frame their work around the straightforward Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycle, shown in Figure 1.

Applying this model is simple. Decide on a set of goals, use the strengths of the school system to align the organization to those goals, make data-driven decisions, and study the results to determine opportunities for continuous improvement. The PDSA model can be followed to increase the number of K-12 students interested in engineering and decrease dropout rates You can enhance the effectiveness of this approach by involving not only individual teachers but also their entire classes, building commitment to learning goals, brainstorming new ideas, and encouraging students to rely on data when making decisions related to their learning success.

This PDSA cycle is the central idea for another key approach to improvement, the Baldrige Education Criteria for Performance Excellence, administered by NIST with support from ASQ. Many K-16 educational organizations use its framework to improve their processes, and the actual award application process provides invaluable feedback for continuous improvement. The ideas of Baldrige are consistent with the ideas of quality engineering and management. Many of the concepts are based on the writings of W. Edwards Deming and Joseph Juran.

Baldrige-based efforts start with a school’s leaders defining the mission and goals, focusing strategic plans on students, faculty and all other stakeholders; improvement metrics and monitoring progress are essential. I find it particularly exciting that the framework incorporates the concept of a learning organization and relies on self-assessment to help each school develop a unique path forward, rather than prescribing a one-size-fits-all approach. Some Michigan school systems have used the Baldrige framework successfully. I recommend that you review the experiences of the 2008 Baldrige winner, the Iredell-Stateville (NC) school district, in the article, “What Matters Most.”

I’ll also suggest that you check out the report generated from ASQ’s 2009 Leadership Summit for Superintendents, which shares participants’ ideas on systemic improvement.

We have a very serious challenge with our current education system. Applying the principles and approaches of PDSA and the Baldrige framework for continuous improvement is an important component of educational leadership outreach for collaboration between engineering colleges and K-12 school systems. Additionally, what we learn from these continuous improvement efforts we must use to generate research questions for further study.

You can get involved in this vital work by participating in the panel session I’m organizing for the ASEE annual conference this summer on “Systems Thinking Using Baldrige in Engineering Colleges.” I hope you will choose to join our efforts to make a difference.

Veenstra
Cindy Veenstra, PhD, is director of Veenstra and Associates. Her PhD research was on “Modeling Freshman Engineering Success.” She is on the board of the ASEE College-Industry Partnerships Division and chair-elect for the ASQ Education Division. She is also associate editor for the new journal Quality Approaches in Higher Education.

She can be reached at cpveenst@umich.edu

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Connect Talent with Opportunity to Rebuild Economy

Daryl Weinert
By
Daryl Weinert, Executive Director, University of Michigan Business Engagement Center


Serendipity is a wonderful thing, but it's no way to build an economy.

We can't rely on dumb luck to connect the people, ideas and capital that will create the businesses of the future. We all love the stories of life-altering breakthroughs being pulled out of thin air.

One of Archimedes' "EUREKA moments," for example, resulted from a simple decision to bathe. When he immersed himself in water, he discovered that the volume of his body displaced an equal volume of water. Serendipity: A need to scrub away Grecian grime inspired a way to measure the volume of irregular shapes. But Archimedes' discovery was no fluke. As antiquity's leading mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor and astronomer, he brought tremendous skill and background to the moment -- he had to tools to recognize what was happening as he descended and the water rose.

In the same way, good fortune or luck won't solve the problems that plague the Michigan economy. We must systematically catalog the tremendous resources we possess, attract or create the resources we lack, and develop systems to connect people, ideas and capital in creative and innovative ways.

Universities must play a critical role in building this web of creative connectivity. Universities are huge repositories of potential solutions: faculty and students brimming with talent, ideas and enthusiasm. But until recently, universities were fairly disconnected from the world of product development and commerce. Universities studied these worlds but rarely ventured into the day-to-day fray.

This is changing. Universities are bringing more and more practical engagement and experiential learning into classrooms. Student interest is exploding -- they see that these special programs can unlock their entrepreneurial passions . Opportunities abound for faculty to share their discoveries with the world and see them incorporated into real products for real people. And universities are engaging the broader community in a robust fashion. Some examples will illustrate this new connectivity.

For the past few years the University of Michigan's Technology Transfer office has hosted a team of student interns each summer in its Tech Start program. During the summer, these students team up with Tech Transfer staff and industry mentors to help U-M spin-off companies. The students get a chance to roll up their sleeves and experience the challenges and opportunities inherent in launching a successful business.

For some, this experience turns into a path that connects with opportunity. Gus Simiao came to the university as a graduate business student in 2006 and worked as a Tech Start intern on engineering Professor Michael Bernitsas' VIVACE technology. After graduation, Simiao kept in touch with Professor Bernitsas and, in 2009, moved back to Ann Arbor and accepted a job as CEO of Vortex Hydro Energy, a company formed to commercialize VIVACE, an ocean- and river-current energy technology.

Another important avenue from idea to opportunity is the annual MPowered Career Fair. It seems counterintuitive that a state as hard pressed as Michigan would have any exciting opportunities for students to stay and build their experience and launch careers, but the Fair, now in its third year, does indeed provide those opportunities, bringing together small companies and ambitious, talented U-M students.

The 2010 MPowered Career Fair targeted companies that have up to 500 employees and are willing to consider hiring U-M students for full-time, part-time or internship positions

For more information about the programs above, or to learn more about the university's growing web of engagement programs, visit the Business Engagement Center on the web.

The following video illustrates how the Business Engagement Center works with businesses.

Connect Talent with Opportunity to Rebuild Economy

Daryl Weinert
By
Daryl Weinert, Executive Director, University of Michigan Business Engagement Center


Serendipity is a wonderful thing, but it's no way to build an economy.

We can't rely on dumb luck to connect the people, ideas and capital that will create the businesses of the future. We all love the stories of life-altering breakthroughs being pulled out of thin air.

One of Archimedes' "EUREKA moments," for example, resulted from a simple decision to bathe. When he immersed himself in water, he discovered that the volume of his body displaced an equal volume of water. Serendipity: A need to scrub away Grecian grime inspired a way to measure the volume of irregular shapes. But Archimedes' discovery was no fluke. As antiquity's leading mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor and astronomer, he brought tremendous skill and background to the moment -- he had to tools to recognize what was happening as he descended and the water rose.

In the same way, good fortune or luck won't solve the problems that plague the Michigan economy. We must systematically catalog the tremendous resources we possess, attract or create the resources we lack, and develop systems to connect people, ideas and capital in creative and innovative ways.

Universities must play a critical role in building this web of creative connectivity. Universities are huge repositories of potential solutions: faculty and students brimming with talent, ideas and enthusiasm. But until recently, universities were fairly disconnected from the world of product development and commerce. Universities studied these worlds but rarely ventured into the day-to-day fray.

This is changing. Universities are bringing more and more practical engagement and experiential learning into classrooms. Student interest is exploding -- they see that these special programs can unlock their entrepreneurial passions . Opportunities abound for faculty to share their discoveries with the world and see them incorporated into real products for real people. And universities are engaging the broader community in a robust fashion. Some examples will illustrate this new connectivity.

For the past few years the University of Michigan's Technology Transfer office has hosted a team of student interns each summer in its Tech Start program. During the summer, these students team up with Tech Transfer staff and industry mentors to help U-M spin-off companies. The students get a chance to roll up their sleeves and experience the challenges and opportunities inherent in launching a successful business.

For some, this experience turns into a path that connects with opportunity. Gus Simiao came to the university as a graduate business student in 2006 and worked as a Tech Start intern on engineering Professor Michael Bernitsas' VIVACE technology. After graduation, Simiao kept in touch with Professor Bernitsas and, in 2009, moved back to Ann Arbor and accepted a job as CEO of Vortex Hydro Energy, a company formed to commercialize VIVACE, an ocean- and river-current energy technology.

Another important avenue from idea to opportunity is the annual MPowered Career Fair. It seems counterintuitive that a state as hard pressed as Michigan would have any exciting opportunities for students to stay and build their experience and launch careers, but the Fair, now in its third year, does indeed provide those opportunities, bringing together small companies and ambitious, talented U-M students.

The 2010 MPowered Career Fair targeted companies that have up to 500 employees and are willing to consider hiring U-M students for full-time, part-time or internship positions

For more information about the programs above, or to learn more about the university's growing web of engagement programs, visit the Business Engagement Center on the web.

The following video illustrates how the Business Engagement Center works with businesses.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Why Bother with Programming?

By James Paul Holloway
Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and Associate Dean, College of Engineering

James Holloway
Like most schools of engineering, the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan requires all first-year students to take a class introducing students to fundamental algorithms and programming.  Our class, “Engineering 101, Introduction to Computers and Programming,” has been running for 10 years in its current form, and similar classes go back many decades. 

But the reality is that after leaving Engineering 101, few of our students will write significant programs.  They might write simple data analysis codes or a few spreadsheet macros, or they might modify a few Matlab scripts provided by their instructors, but the longest codes they write from scratch during their years at Michigan are probably in the first year (students in computer science, computer engineering, and electrical engineering are an exception). 

Why then do we use a precious four credits of our curriculum teaching them to program in Matlab and C++? Is it because all of our graduates need to know how to program after they leave?  There is precious little evidence of that.  Indeed, what survey evidence we do have is to the contrary.  Apparently, most of our graduates will never program anything after they leave Michigan, and the 2003 CACHE survey bears this out more widely.

But our students will repeatedly use the mathematical logic that they learn in Engineering 101 and their other math courses. Engineering 101 teaches students to think algorithmically while simultaneously giving them concrete tools to design, construct and test algorithms. The class, in this way, combines learning a certain precise logical approach to the solution of problems with the experience of engineering design and prototyping.  This is its true value.

The fundamental constructs of algorithms -- sequence, iteration and selection -- along with the idea of combining simple building blocks in precise sequences to solve complex problems, are at the heart of deductive reasoning and systems-thinking.

Further, Engineering 101 allows students to better understand number systems and representation, as they learn twos-complement and the binary floating-point representations of numbers.  Indeed, the entire idea of using a data representation combined with well defined operations to manipulate that data is intensely powerful; it’s an essentially human capability that allows us to give meaning to information.  This idea becomes alive and concrete when the student realizes that the same physical representation -- really a collection of stored charges -- could mean the word “lion” or the integer 1852795244, or the floating-point number 1.85236e+28.  This understanding -- that symbols can be given meaning by our interpretation and by the design of operations upon then -- is a key to mathematical reasoning.

Introductory programming courses are active, because the essential learning takes place in the projects that students undertake.  In Engineering 101 most of these projects require students to think through and really understand mathematical concepts -- many overtly so: optimizing a function, or root finding to solve an equation, or doing numerical integration.  Even before students take an class in ordinary differential equations, we can have them integrate differential equations to predict the path of a body in the solar system or predict the population of a predator-prey system.  Many other problems are combinatorial -- a search for anagrams or creation of a sorting algorithm or building a Sudoku puzzle-solver.  This kind of tight coupling of mathematical content with problem-based learning is rare but surely helps to develop a good engineering mindset.

But most importantly, because such classes are project-based, they require students to be creative. Creativity is the means by which the future will be realized, and our educational system is increasingly lacking in means to develop student creativity.  We do little to help our students discover the value of their own ideas or to discover the power of their own minds.  But presenting students with problems that have multiple solutions, where no single implementation is correct and where they have to make choices in their work, breaks students out of the find-the-correct-answer mold in which they lived too long in their earlier education.  The challenge is not to make an introductory programming class like Engineering 101 relevant; it is to make the subsequent engineering curriculum just as challenging and demanding of creativity as Engineering 101.

Why Bother with Programming?

By James Paul Holloway
Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and Associate Dean, College of Engineering

James Holloway
Like most schools of engineering, the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan requires all first-year students to take a class introducing students to fundamental algorithms and programming.  Our class, “Engineering 101, Introduction to Computers and Programming,” has been running for 10 years in its current form, and similar classes go back many decades. 

But the reality is that after leaving Engineering 101, few of our students will write significant programs.  They might write simple data analysis codes or a few spreadsheet macros, or they might modify a few Matlab scripts provided by their instructors, but the longest codes they write from scratch during their years at Michigan are probably in the first year (students in computer science, computer engineering, and electrical engineering are an exception). 

Why then do we use a precious four credits of our curriculum teaching them to program in Matlab and C++? Is it because all of our graduates need to know how to program after they leave?  There is precious little evidence of that.  Indeed, what survey evidence we do have is to the contrary.  Apparently, most of our graduates will never program anything after they leave Michigan, and the 2003 CACHE survey bears this out more widely.

But our students will repeatedly use the mathematical logic that they learn in Engineering 101 and their other math courses. Engineering 101 teaches students to think algorithmically while simultaneously giving them concrete tools to design, construct and test algorithms. The class, in this way, combines learning a certain precise logical approach to the solution of problems with the experience of engineering design and prototyping.  This is its true value.

The fundamental constructs of algorithms -- sequence, iteration and selection -- along with the idea of combining simple building blocks in precise sequences to solve complex problems, are at the heart of deductive reasoning and systems-thinking.

Further, Engineering 101 allows students to better understand number systems and representation, as they learn twos-complement and the binary floating-point representations of numbers.  Indeed, the entire idea of using a data representation combined with well defined operations to manipulate that data is intensely powerful; it’s an essentially human capability that allows us to give meaning to information.  This idea becomes alive and concrete when the student realizes that the same physical representation -- really a collection of stored charges -- could mean the word “lion” or the integer 1852795244, or the floating-point number 1.85236e+28.  This understanding -- that symbols can be given meaning by our interpretation and by the design of operations upon then -- is a key to mathematical reasoning.

Introductory programming courses are active, because the essential learning takes place in the projects that students undertake.  In Engineering 101 most of these projects require students to think through and really understand mathematical concepts -- many overtly so: optimizing a function, or root finding to solve an equation, or doing numerical integration.  Even before students take an class in ordinary differential equations, we can have them integrate differential equations to predict the path of a body in the solar system or predict the population of a predator-prey system.  Many other problems are combinatorial -- a search for anagrams or creation of a sorting algorithm or building a Sudoku puzzle-solver.  This kind of tight coupling of mathematical content with problem-based learning is rare but surely helps to develop a good engineering mindset.

But most importantly, because such classes are project-based, they require students to be creative. Creativity is the means by which the future will be realized, and our educational system is increasingly lacking in means to develop student creativity.  We do little to help our students discover the value of their own ideas or to discover the power of their own minds.  But presenting students with problems that have multiple solutions, where no single implementation is correct and where they have to make choices in their work, breaks students out of the find-the-correct-answer mold in which they lived too long in their earlier education.  The challenge is not to make an introductory programming class like Engineering 101 relevant; it is to make the subsequent engineering curriculum just as challenging and demanding of creativity as Engineering 101.