James Madison University

first graduates logo About this series: This is the second installment in a series of features celebrating the first graduating class of the JMU Department of Engineering. When JMU started the school four years ago, it set out to develop a program unlike any other. Through this series, you will see how the students and faculty have done just that, concentrating their efforts on teaching and learning the four pillars of sustainability that future engineers must embrace, not only to succeed in their profession, but to make meaningful contributions in the communities they choose to work in. The series will continue each week through May, when graduates of the JMU Department of Engineering take part in the spring commencement ceremony for the first time.


Striebig Sees Need For More, Better Undergraduate Engineering Education

The Shenandoah Valley is a beautiful place to live and much closer to his native Pennsylvania than Spokane, Wash., where he taught at Gonzaga University before joining the JMU Department of Engineering four years ago.

But it was the opportunity to teach in an engineering program committed to undergraduate education that clinched Dr. Brad Striebig's decision to come to Harrisonburg. Striebig, an associate professor of engineering, said the JMU program is well-positioned to address a pair of crucial needs: A dearth of public universities with engineering programs devoted to undergraduate education and a lack of strong engineering educators.

PHOTO: Dr. Stribig writes on white board in classroom."If you look across the country, I would challenge you to find more than a half dozen public universities that would say they have a focus on undergraduate engineering education," said Striebig, who comes from a family of educators. "I can think of a couple. If somebody can think of more than six, I would be really interested in hearing who those other schools are."

Striebig also sees shortcomings in the teaching that takes place in undergraduate engineering programs. If you look at the vast numbers of engineers who come out with the undergraduate degrees, the people teaching them are not recognized for being good teachers, he said. "To me, this is a gaping hole in our undergraduate programs throughout the country and that has long-term consequences about what we're capable of as a country."

While there are places where undergraduate engineering education is strong, many of them are private and come with too high a price tag for too many students, Striebig said. That has opened the door for the JMU Department of Engineering to become a model of how to provide strong undergraduate engineering education at a public institution.

PHOTO: Dr. Stribig lectures in front of the classroom.Striebig has been involved in engineering education since earning his doctorate in environmental engineering from Pennsylvania State University in 1996. At Gonzaga, he was an associate professor of civil engineering and founded and advised the Gonzaga Engineers Without Borders Chapter. He also developed and continues to direct the WATER (Water for Africa, Technology, Education and Reciprocity) Study Abroad Program, a program promoting education in sustainable development between JMU, Gonzaga University and the Songhai Center in Benin, West Africa. Striebig looks forward to returning to Benin in the future with another group of JMU students to work on projects that address water quality and health issues.

Because students learn in different ways, Striebig said he uses a variety of teaching styles. The one that seems most effective is hands-on, project-based learning. "I try to make as much of the class about actually doing things as possible," he said, "also keeping in mind the balance of trying to cover the material that will go through for accreditation or the FE (fundamentals of engineering) Exam that students need to learn."

Series At A Glance