Engineering Education Welcomes New Generation of Faculty

Engineering Education, now in its sophomore year, continues its trendsetting pace. ENE was the first in the nation to establish an academic department dedicated to the scholarly pursuit of engineering education and the first to establish graduate programs in engineering education—11 graduate students joined the department for the fall 2005 semester. Now, true to its pioneering nature, ENE has welcomed three leading scholars to its faculty.

All three professors have degrees in both engineering and education, a combination ideally suited for the emerging field of engineering education. With a background in engineering as well as an understanding of education and pedagogy, this new breed of faculty can conduct research in education within the engineering context. They are part of a small, but growing generation of engineering education scholars who will usher in increasingly innovative levels of science and scholarship in engineering education that will impact engineering students for generations to come.

With these new hires, ENE's faculty numbers now stand at 13, with 6 more visiting and courtesy faculty members filling out the roster. Please join us in welcoming Robin Adams, Sean Brophy, and Monica F. Cox.

Robin Adams, an assistant professor in engineering education, hails from Newport Beach, California. She joins us from the University of Washington where she was most recently the Assistant Director for Research at the Center for Engineering Learning and Teaching.

Adams earned a Ph.D. in education, leadership, and policy studies from the University of Washington, a M.S. in materials science and engineering from the University of Washington, and a B.S. in mechanical engineering from California Polytechnic State University.

"I strive to make the invisible, visible," says Adams of her teaching philosophy. "I try to make what I know and how I know it transparent. This can be uncomfortable because it means letting others see me struggle with complexity and not giving answers right off the bat." She has found that this approach provides an entry point for others to jump in and engage in more critical thinking. It enables her to illustrate that things are complex, that almost every situation has elements of the "new," and that it's important to get to what something means or is if your goal is to apply what you know to new situations.

Adams is a national leader in the areas of design knowing and learning, interdisciplinary thinking, and strategies for connecting research on learning and teaching practice.

As engineering education emerges in the national engineering consciousness as a serious science, Adams sees a wealth of opportunities ahead. "Purdue provides an opportunity to explore future possibilities for engineering educationthe kinds of questions we seek answers to, the ways in which we evolve as a profession, the ways in which we can improve engineering student learning and engineering practice in light of evolving needs," says Adams. She cites ENE's engineering student "laboratories for engineering learning" and its critical mass of engineering education scholars as factors making ENE a prime venue for developing the profession.

In her free time, Adams travels extensively, is an avid diver, and dabbles in a variety of artistic mediums, including metal, glass, fiber, and digital.

Sean Brophy has been moving toward the field of engineering education since his undergraduate days at Michigan when he would sit in class and wonder why his professor approached a topic the way he did. "When I finally figured something out, I would say, why did he make it so hard?" he recalls. "And I was always thinking, well, I would have done it this way. So, even at that time, even though I didn't realize what I was doing, I was trouble-shooting the type of instruction that I was getting."

Fast-forward through a circuitous route involving positions in industry, scholarly pursuits in a variety of areas, and a collection of degrees, and Brophy has landed as an assistant professor in Engineering Education where, he says, he can finally put it all together.

Here he sees himself as a teacher, researcher, and designer; his areas of expertise are reasoning with mathematics and models, technology supported learning environments, conceptual change, and designing assessment for learning. Through his research, he seeks answers to such foundational engineering education questions as: "How do students represent a problem in order to make sense of it? And then how do they plan their problem solving?"

He is working on creating a learning environment in which he can study and diagnose his students' problem-solving processes as a way to help them develop their problem-solving skills.

"It really is a bold move to take the initiative to say we need to change engineering education, to have a vision, to get together experts in the area, and to systematically think about the future," Brophy says of his reason for coming to Purdue. "The fact that this department was formed is a very important step toward creating the necessary change in the field."

Brophy has a Ph.D. in education and human development (technology in education) from Vanderbilt University, a M.S. in computer science (artificial intelligence) from DePaul University, and a B.S. in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan.

Outside of the classroom, he enjoys outdoor activities with his family, including wife, Carol; two children, Ryan, 11 and Erin, 9; and two dogs, Maggie, 13, and Murphy, a golden retriever puppy.

Monica F. Cox, an assistant professor in engineering education, has expertise in assessment and evaluation of engineering curricula, faculty pedagogy, and student learning. She recently passed her defense in higher education administration at Peabody College at Vanderbilt University. She also has a M.S. in industrial engineering from the University of Alabama and a B.S. in mathematics from Spelman College.

Cox's scholarly research in engineering education is geared toward developing best pedagogical practices for teaching and evaluating engineering students.

"I want to explore how different kinds of engineering students respond to various engineering classroom environments," she says. "Do different styles of instruction affect how well engineering students understand and retain concepts? Is there a 'right' way to teach engineering? If so, how do you train faculty to teach so that student learning is maximized?"

These and many other grand questions are at the core of engineering education scholarly pursuits. Cox's research will become part of a growing body of core, foundational knowledge to guide the engineering community in the teaching of engineering.

Cox puts her theories into practice in her classrooms and hopes her efforts have long-term effects. "I encourage students to reach out to one another for information and to learn and apply academic concepts," says Cox. "I also have students reflect upon their learning often and think about how their actions will affect society as a whole. Finally, I want students to ask questions that are meaningful and will transform the disciplines that they are studying."

Cox is originally from Newville, Alabama, and is the first African American woman to join Purdue Engineering's faculty. She cited Purdue's culture of embracing diversity as a factor that contributed to her coming to Purdue. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, gardening, and going for motorcycle rides with her husband.