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ASSET: Grassroots Change Effort Underway at U. Cincinnati

The following is a guest post by Gregory Bucks, University of Cincinnati.

A grassroots effort is underway to improve the quality of undergraduate engineering education in the College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS) at the University of Cinicinnati.  The program, called Advancing Student Success in Engineering and Technology (ASSET) grew out of a conversation between EECS prof Jason Heikenfeld  and Eugene Rutz, an academic director within CEAS, during the summer of 2013.  Spurred on by the merger of two colleges, a change from quarters to semesters, and 64% growth in first-year enrollments between 2010 & 2014, the pair recognized the need to take action to improve the quality of education within CEAS. Their initial conversation quickly grew into a group of approximately 20 people, representing all departments within CEAS as well as a number of the major programs supporting the college.

The main purpose of ASSET is to find ways to improve the experience of undergraduate engineering and technology students within CEAS.  To this end, the group identified three primary goals that would serve to guide the efforts:

  1. CEAS should offer the best engineering education in Ohio, validated by real metrics and recognized across the state by students, employers, and legislators.
  2. CEAS should move beyond spires of excellence in education to a rising tide that evaluates teaching in all courses by enacting proactive and assessment driven faculty development for all educators.
  3. CEAS should educate non-engineering students to be technologically literate citizens.

Once these goals were agreed upon by the group, the next step was to receive approval from the administration within CEAS.  The goals were presented to the dean as well as the department heads to get both their feedback and support.  With the support of the dean and department heads, the goals were presented to the CEAS faculty as a whole, and the faculty voted to approve the ASSET group as a committee with the task of exploring and developing methods to achieve these goals.

ASSET worked throughout the 2013-2014 academic year to find different ways to accomplish the charge laid out by the CEAS faculty.  Surprisingly enough, the main issue was trying to whittle down all of the great ideas to a select few that could be implemented as pilot efforts during the 2014-2015 academic year.  In all, ASSET settled on a set of three recommendations:

  1. Provide pedagogical faculty development for all professor educator and pre-tenured faculty through training and workshop opportunities and regular, formative, peer review
  2. Redesign and better leverage practices within CEAS for student feedback.
  3. Introduce a new course open to the entire university on topics related to the NAE Engineering Grand Challenges, taught by students in the University Honors Program from CEAS and mentored by CEAS faculty.

These recommendations were presented to the CEAS faculty in April and received approval to move forward with developing pilot programs for each recommendation.

Progress is being made in all three objective areas.  A particularly interesting pilot course is being developed to allow students the opportunity, following their first co-op experience, to provide informal feedback to the department about the program from their experience in the real world (recommendation area 2).

While still in the early stages, the ASSET committee is excited about the potential for having a significant impact on the quality of undergraduate engineering education at UC.  With all of the changes CEAS has gone through and the increasing recognition among faculty of the impact the scholarship of teaching can have on students, the time is ripe for change.

For more information about the ASSET initiative at Cincinnati write to Gregory Bucks (here).

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