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Engineering Education Grants

Expanding Access to and Participation in the Multiple Institution Database for Investigating Engineering Longitudinal Development

Principal Investigators: Matthew Ohland, Susan Lord, Russell Long, Marissa Orr, Catherine Brawner
Start Date: March 1, 2016
End Date: February 28, 2021 (estimated)

This project seeks to expand the number of institutions participating in The Multiple-Institution Database for Investigating Longitudinal Development (MIDFIELD). MIDFIELD is a resource enabling the study of students that includes longitudinal, whole population data for multiple institutions. Retention, measured in various ways, has been the dominant mode of studying student success in engineering education and in higher education in general. However, simply studying who matriculates and who graduates does not tell the complete story of a student's path through the engineering curriculum nor should it be used as a measure of an institution. A national, longitudinal student unit-record database would enable study of engineering programs and benchmark metrics consistently. MIDFIELD has already been proven to facilitate data on student matriculation habits disaggregated across various engineering disciplines, ethnicities and genders. However is value as a predictive tool has also been somewhat limited due to the small (eleven) number of institutions who have provided their student data. Read the abstract

Contextualized Evaluation Framework for Advanced STEM MOOCs

Principal Investigators: Kerrie DouglasHeidi Diefes-DuxKrishna Madhavan, Peter Bermel
Start Date: November 1, 2015
End Date: October 31, 2018 (estimated)

The Promoting Research and Innovation in Methodologies for Evaluation (PRIME) program supports research on evaluation with special emphasis on: (1) exploring innovative approaches for determining the impacts and usefulness of STEM education projects and programs; (2) building on and expanding the theoretical foundations for evaluating STEM education and workforce development initiatives, including translating and adapting approaches from other fields; and (3) growing the capacity and infrastructure of the evaluation field. The PI and co-PIs at Purdue University will undertake an important research study designed to create a new paradigm for evaluating STEM MOOCs that go beyond analyzing clickstream data and could be used for evidence-based decision making. The goal of this new paradigm is to contextualize evaluation metrics by taking into consideration learner characteristics, course characteristics, and stakeholder goals. It is envisioned that this new paradigm would guide the development of the next generation of STEM MOOCs. Read the abstract

Transformative Approaches to Teaching User-Centered Design

Principal Investigators: Taira Reid, Morgan Hynes
Start Date: October 1, 2015
End Date: September 30, 2017 (estimated)

National Science Foundation Program: Engineering Education

The objective of this proposal is to initiate research on how compassionate design activities can help develop engineering students' self and social awareness. Engineers design solutions within complex contexts that often have broader social, political, economic, and environmental impact. However, research has shown a culture of disengagement in the professional formation of engineers. This culture of disengagement is one where engineers often separate the technical aspects of their work from the social context of the solution in an attempt to be impartial and objective in their decision making. Yet the complex social contexts in which engineers design are becoming more and more important as engineered solutions now have an expanding reach in our global society. To more fully engage engineering students' in social contexts, the work of this proposal will challenge engineering students to be compassionate in their design work to develop solutions that address users' fears, dignity, freedom, and emotional well-being. For example, they may design cancer diagnostic equipment that moves away from the sterile, robotic aesthetic toward a softer, friendlier experience for these highly emotional situations. The research team will explore how this kind of design experience develops engineering students' self and social awareness as well as their overall approach to the engineering design process. Engineering societies and accrediting boards have recognized a need to develop a more well-rounded engineer who has: a commitment to all aspects of innovation where they will need to assess societal impact, a better systems perspective, and greater strength in understanding design contexts. This project impacts the professional formation of engineers, helping students to become ready to solve the complex issues currently facing society. Read the abstract

BIGDATA: SMART Data - Academic Success Made Affordable, Rapid, and Timely through Integrated Data Analytics

Principal Investigators: Krishna MadhavanMatthew OhlandHeidi Diefes-DuxMichael Loui, Mihaela Vorvoreanu, Michael Zentner
Start Date: October 1, 2015
End Date: September 30, 2016 (estimated)

Data science techniques have revolutionized many academic fields and led to terrific gains in the commercial sector. They have to date been underutilized in solving critical problems in the US educational system, particularly in understanding Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) learning and learning environments, broadening participation in STEM, and increasing retention for students traditionally underserved in STEM. The goals of the Directorate for Education and Human Resources through the Critical Techniques and Technologies for Advancing Foundations and Applications of Big Data Science & Engineering (BIGDATA) program are to advance fundamental research aimed at understanding and solving these critical problems, and to catalyze the use of data science in Education Research. This Early Concept Grant for Exploratory Research (EAGER) will seek to understand the background and backbone of systems of data processing and analytics that can provide insights using standard types of data that colleges and universities already have (for example, from their Learning Management Systems, administrative data systems, and advising systems) to provide predictions and recommendations to students and instructors to increase the percentage of students who succeed in college and graduate on time. This has terrific potential to increase graduation rates at two- and four-year institutions, which can lower college costs for families and students. In addition, it has terrific potential to increase the attraction and retention of underrepresented minorities in STEM fields, as it will identify barriers for all students to graduating successfully and on time. Read the abstract

Integrated STEM and Computing Learning in Formal and Informal Settings for Kindergarten to Grade 2

Principal Investigators: Monica CardellaSean BrophyTamara MooreSenay PurzerMorgan Hynes
Start Date: October 1, 2015
End Date: September 30, 2018 (estimated)

The STEM+Computing Partnership (STEM+C) program seeks to integrate the use of computational approaches in K-12 STEM teaching and learning and understand how this integration can improve STEM learning, engagement, and persistence. Computational Thinking (CT) is a relatively new educational focus and a clear need for learners as a 21st century skill. This proposal tackles this challenging new area for young learners, an area greatly in need of research and learning materials. The Principal Investigators will develop and implement integrated STEM+C museum exhibits and integrate CT in their existing engineering design based PictureSTEM curriculum for K-2 students. They will also pilot assessments of the CT components of the PictureSTEM curriculum. This work will make a unique contribution to the available STEM+C learning materials and assessments. There are few such materials for the kindergarten to second grade (K-2) population they will work with. They will research the effects of the curriculum and the exhibits with a mixed methods approach. Read the abstract

Building Supports for Diversity through Engineering Teams

Principal Investigator: Allison Godwin

Start Date: September 15, 2015
End Date: August 21, 2018 (estimated)

Developing students who can work effectively in cross-cultural teams is an important part of engineering education. In our increasingly global economy, students must be adequately prepared to meet the demands of the engineering workforce. However, many students do not have international exposure prior to college or the experience of interacting with others from a variety of backgrounds. As such, understanding how to improve team interactions within culturally diverse groups can provide novel opportunities for students to more deeply appreciate differences in engineering teams while simultaneously deepening their understanding of engineering concepts. This project is focused on how students participate in diverse engineering teams in first-year courses and how their participation impacts students' multicultural effectiveness and diversity sensitivity. Read the abstract

Why We Persist: An Intersectional Study to Characterize and Examine the Experiences of Women Tenure-Track Faculty in Engineering

Principal Investigators: Monica CoxJoyce Main
Start Date: September 15, 2015
End Date: August 31, 2018 (estimated)

The ECR program emphasizes fundamental STEM education research that will generate foundational knowledge in the field. Investments are made in critical areas that are essential, broad and enduring: STEM learning and STEM learning environments, broadening participation in STEM, and STEM workforce development. As part of ECR, this project is funded by the Research on Gender in Science and Engineering (GSE) program. GSE seeks to understand and address gender-based differences in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and workforce participation through education and implementation research that will lead to a larger and more diverse domestic STEM workforce. This collaborative project will add to fundamental research in the core area of broadening participation for all women in engineering. It will address the lack of a well-defined body of research methods, studies, and data on the intersection of race, gender, and class among all women. The project will focus on populations that include African American, Hispanic/Latina, Asian/Asian-American, Native American, White, and multiracial women in tenured faculty positions at higher education institutions within the United States. To do this work, collaborative teams of engineering educators, engineers, and social scientists at Purdue University and Vanderbilt University will study challenges and barriers women encounter in engineering. The study will be guided by an intersectional framework that seeks to uncover why engineering faculty from these groups persist despite the challenges that face them based on race, gender, and class. Read the abstract

Understanding and Supporting Mechanical Engineering Undergraduate Student and Faculty Engagement with an Active, Blended and Collaborative (ABC) Learning Environment

Principal Investigators: Jennifer DeBoerEdward Berger, Jeffrey Rhoads
Start Date: September 15, 2015
End Date: August 31, 2020 (estimated)

Retention of engineering undergraduates, in particular during the sophomore and junior years, is a major national concern. Active learning classroom techniques, Blended online and in-class materials, and Collaborative learning environments have each shown some promise of improving engineering student outcomes. However, these promising tools are seldom deployed together and rarely utilized in core disciplinary classes. This research program will rigorously study the Purdue Mechanics Freeform Classroom (Freeform), an Active-Blended-Collaborative (ABC) structure that has experienced anecdotal success for the last six years. The research team will collect data from multiple sources to understand the student and instructor experience, the importance of disciplinary content and institutional setting, and the juxtaposition of Freeform with students' and instructors' other courses. The project will explore Freeform at Purdue West Lafayette and two other diverse campuses: Purdue University Calumet and Trine University, which serve underrepresented populations that are disproportionately affected by stopout. This study will generate useful outcomes for other interested program adopters, including online course templates and video creation strategies, student study guides, and faculty orientation workshops. Read the abstract

Intellectual Diversity and Critical Thinking Skills in Service Learning (Collaborative)

Principal Investigators: William Oakes
Start Date: September 1, 2015
End Date: August 31, 2018 (estimated)

In an increasingly globally connected world, solutions to real world problems are complex in nature and often outside the boundaries of traditional practice. Thus, future practicing engineers need to be supported through educational systems that teach them not only technical skills, but professional skills such as awareness of social and cultural implications of their designs, understanding and appreciation of diversity, and additional skills in project management, collaboration, and effective communication. The EPICS (Engineering Projects in Community Service) program is an example of an innovation in engineering education which has been shown to present engineering in context, prepare students for the profession, impact their engineering identity, as well as significantly improve the diversity of those participating. In this project, an EPICS program is being established at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (SDSMT). A unique aspect of this program is that it is institutionalizing existing collaborative design opportunities with a tribal college, the Oglala Lakota College and establishing 50% of the design projects to meet critical needs of stakeholders on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Read the abstract

An Engineer Like Me: How Perceived Similarity and Peer Effects Influence Student Major Choice

Principal Investigators: Joyce Main, Amanda Griffith
Start Date: September 1, 2015
End Date: August 31, 2017 (estimated)

This Improving Undergraduate STEM Education (IUSE) project will investigate the factors that influence the under-representation of female and minority students in engineering. Data from the College of Engineering at Purdue University will be used for the analyses, which provides an opportunity to examine a large population of engineering students. The project has the following objectives: (1) to investigate how students' peers and role models, both from the student and faculty populations within each major, can affect students choice of major, (2) to investigate how the messaging and information students receive in the course of choosing their major can affect which field they will enter, and (3) to establish how and why major choices change over time. The analysis will combine methods from economics and education to provide comprehensive mixed-methods analysis of how classroom environments and activities can influence student major choice. The proposed research is aimed at explaining why substantial variations in diversity exist across engineering disciplines as a function of student classroom experiences the demographic composition of students peers and faculty, but also the messages that students receive regarding the values and career prospects of the different disciplines through classroom activities and interventions. The successful completion of the project will significantly complement ongoing efforts to increase recruitment efforts across engineering disciplines. Read the abstract

Understanding the Role of High Schools in Diversifying and Promoting Undergraduate Engineering Degree Attainment

Principal Investigators: Joyce Main
Start Date: September 1, 2015
End Date: August 31, 2018 (estimated)

The proportions of women, African American/Black, Hispanic/Latino, and Native American students earning degrees in engineering at U.S. institutions have remained relatively stagnant in the last ten years. Yet, the United States' need for a larger and more diverse scientific and technological labor force continues to grow. Increasing the number and diversity of students pursuing engineering degrees is an important strategy to help meet the nation's workforce demands. The objective of this research project is to examine students' pathways from high school through college to determine high school level factors that predict college engineering degree attainment. Examining the role of high schools is especially critical because pre-college academic preparation is a key contributor to college academic success, and because many students tend to decide to pursue an engineering degree before applying to colleges. The results of this research have the potential to significantly advance our understanding of students' college preparation, major choice, and likelihood of graduating with an engineering degree. Key stakeholders can apply findings from this research to inform strategies and refocus educational interventions to increase female and minority students' participation in engineering. Read the abstract

Assessing and Improving Online Learning Spaces for Diverse and High-Attrition Engineering Students (CAREER)

Principal Investigators: Jennifer DeBoer
Start Date: April 1, 2015
End Date: March 31, 2020 (estimated)

Increasing the retention and achievement of women, minorities, and high attrition groups in engineering is of paramount national strategic interest, and online learning has emerged as a popular strategy for expanding access. However, there is limited evidence that online courses work for the diverse groups of students in engineering classes. In fact, early findings from other disciplines suggest that virtual instruction exacerbates achievement gaps. This proposal pushes research and practice to better serve all of the varieties of engineering students in three major ways. First, it analyzes underrepresented or high attrition student groups independently, rather than studying average effects for a whole class. Second, it tracks individual student behaviors to better explain differences in student success and better recommend support systems that are tailored to unique students. And, third, it studies undergraduate online and blended learning in five widely varying contexts, including two international sites, to greatly expand the spectrum of tools that can inform undergraduate engineering in the United States, in particular, in a large public university setting. This is achieved through the investigator's study of and collaboration with four introductory engineering courses at diverse institutions. Enhancing digital educational tools to better support unique groups of students, especially those that have high rates of attrition, can fulfill the nation's growing need for a highly qualified and diverse engineering workforce. Read the abstract

Broadening Contexts to Motivate Participation in Engineering (CAREER)

Principal Investigators: Morgan Hynes
Start Date: March 1, 2015
End Date: February 29, 2020 (estimated)

The primary goal of this project is to investigate how grades 5-8 students' engagement in and perceptions of engineering are influenced through participating in engineering challenges that intentionally integrate their personal interests. The merit of this work lies in the discovery of whether appealing to grades 5-8 students' personal interests can improve their perceptions of engineering and make them more likely to pursue engineering as a career. The project work involves engaging teachers and students in research-based engineering education specifically designed to promote inclusivity among underrepresented groups. The research team will interview and observe students to better understand how their engineering project work relates to their own personal interests. The immediate impact of the proposed project is measured in the numbers of teachers and students (especially those underrepresented in engineering) that have an opportunity to participate in the interest-driven engineering activities. Results from the research are potentially transformative for how engineering activities are presented in pre-college classrooms. More broadly, the project informs the design and delivery of inclusive engineering activities throughout the nation. Read the abstract

Network for Computational Nanotechnology Cyber Platform

Principal Investigators: Gerhard Klimeck, Krishna Madhavan, Michael McLennan, Lynn Zentner, Michael Zentner

Start Date: December 1, 2012
End Date: November 30, 2017 (estimated)

Network for Computational Nanotechnology (NCN) was founded in 2002 to advance nanoscience toward nanotechnology via online simulations on Not only has nanoHUB become the first broadly successful, scientific end-to-end cloud computing environment, but it also has evolved well beyond online simulation. Annually, nanoHUB provides a library of 3,000 learning resources to 195,000 users worldwide. Its 232 simulation tools, free from the limitations of running software locally, are used in the cloud by over 10,800 annually. Its impact is demonstrated by 720+ citations to nanoHUB in the scientific literature with over 4,807 secondary citations, yielding an h-index of 31, and by a median time from publication of a research simulation program to classroom use of less than 6 months. Cumulatively, over 14,000 students in over 760 formal classes in over 100 institutions have used nanoHUB simulations. Read the abstract

A Study of How Engineering Students Approach Innovation

Principal Investigators: Senay Purzer

Start Date: January 15, 2012
End Date: December 31, 2016 (estimated)

This engineering education research initiation grant seeks to develop ways to measure the innovation skills of engineering students, and use the tools developed to design engineering degree programs that produce more innovative graduates. The research study uses a mixed methods approach to identify innovation skills then measure them in students. Read the abstract

Mathematics as a Gatekeeper to Engineering: The interplay between mathematical thinking and design thinking

Principal Investigators: Monica Cardella

Start Date: October 1, 2011
End Date: September 30, 2016 (estimated)

This engineering education research initiation grant seeks to understand how engineering student learning experiences in requisite mathematics courses impact how students learn engineering design. The principle investigator will use a verbal protocol study, which has been used successfully in understanding design thinking in past studies. Read the abstract

Deep Insights Anytime, Anywhere (DIA2) - Central Resource for Characterizing the TUES Portfolio through Interactive Knowledge Mining and Visualizations

Principal Investigators: Krishna Madhavan, Mihaela Vorvoreanu, Niklas Elmqvist
Start Date: September 15, 2011
End Date: August 31, 2016 (estimated)

LEAD INSTITUTION: Purdue University
COLLABORATORS: Arizona State University, Stanford University and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

This TUES Central Resource Project is designed to help those engaged in improving STEM education to synthesize knowledge produced through NSF investments through a web-based knowledge mining and interactive visualization platform. The Deep Insights Anytime, Anywhere (DIA2) project allows users (e.g., current and potential principle investigators, NSF/TUES program staff, and administrators at academic institutions) to interactively mine, synthesize, and visualize data at a scale that is not possible with currently available tools. DIA2 is based upon a more narrowly scoped Interactive Knowledge Networks for Engineering Education Research (iKNEER) prototype that targeted the engineering education research community, expanding the functionality by an order of magnitude in scale; integrating newer approaches in data mining and visualization into a fully deployed system. Read the abstract

Advancing engineering education through learner-centric, adaptive cyber-tools and cyber-environments

Principal Investigator: Krishna Madhavan

Start Date: October 15, 2009
End Date: April 30, 2016 (estimated)

This CAREER project poses the fundamental question of how can cyber-tools and cyber-environments better enable learning in the engineering disciplines. The theoretical framework for this work is a synthesis of situated learning theory and theories of semantic web (a new and evolving area of study in computing that has major implications for future cyber-tools and cyber-environments). While situated learning theory focuses on the student experience, theories of semantic web design focus on the process of characterizing and creating cyber-environments. The specific goals of this project include: (1) understand educators' expectations of cyber-tools and cyber-environments as engineering teaching tools; (2) characterize how undergraduate learners interact with the current generation of simulation tools online; (3) investigate the influence of learning styles on undergraduate students' use of simulation tools; and (4) create and validate a learner-centric semantic schema- also called ontology - to form the foundation for the creation of future simulation cyber-tools. Integration of research and education occur will through the development of an online "Guide to using cyber-environments in the undergraduate engineering curriculum". This research will lead to the creation of highly adaptive and customizable learning experiences when using cyber-tools and cyber-environments as part of the engineering curricula. Read the abstract

Learning from Small Numbers: Using personal narratives by underrepresented undergraduate students to promote institutional change in engineering education

Principal Investigators: Alice Pawley

Start Date: October 1, 2010
End Date: September 30, 2016 (estimated)

This engineering education research project seeks to answer the question of why some groups are chronically under-represented in engineering degree programs. To address this issue the PI will use narratives to understand how under-represented engineering students describe interactions with their educational institutions and what institutional factors affect persistence and success. The project will develop and then disseminate tools based on "personas" and "informance" to help policy makers learn how institutions can evolve to better address and support the experiences of under-represented groups. Read the abstract

Reinvigorating Engineering and Changing History (REACH) Scholars Program

Principal Investigators: Monica Cox, Cynthia Lynch, Audeen Fentiman, Phillip Dunston, Pamella Shaw

Start Date: March 15, 2009
End Date: February 29, 2016 (estimated)

The Reinvigorating Engineering and Changing History (REACH) Scholars Program at Purdue University will offer qualified Masters and direct admit Ph.D. engineering students opportunities to explore multiple academic pathways and to work closely with their peers and with faculty to create a community of scholars who will be prepared broadly for careers across multiple domains. Overarching goals of the program are to help students transition from undergraduate programs to engineering programs at Purdue and to inform Scholars about transition options after they obtain their Masters or Ph.D. degrees. REACH Scholars will be recruited from eleven Schools within the College and will be selected based upon their academic talent and their financial eligibility for Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GANN). Upon determining the financial need of admitted students, REACH will award up to $10,000 scholarships annually to approximately 29 engineering graduate students entering their first semester at Purdue University. Read the abstract