Innovative ideas for engineering education earn invites to conference


Training engineering students to value their entire educational experience, not just what they learn in engineering science and math courses, will make them better problem solvers when it comes to addressing the complex societal challenges they will inevitably encounter in their careers.

That's the idea Dr. Elise Barrella is implementing in JMU engineering courses, an idea that also earned her an invitation to the National Academy of Engineering's sixth Frontiers of Engineering in Education symposium this week in Irvine, Calif. Barrella is joined by two colleagues, Dr. Kyle Gipson and Dr. Justin Henriques, who were selected for their innovative ideas. Henriques started an initiative this year that strives to improve the first-year experience in engineering while Gipson began an initiative for developing leadership qualities in upper class engineering students.

The three proposals from JMU were among more than 300 considered for the conference. Just 77 proposals were selected.  In previous years, the conference has selected proposals from two other JMU engineering faculty members, Dr. Jacquelyn Nagel and Dr. Robert Nagel--not bad for a department that has just 16 faculty members.

Barrella is creating ways to help students connect knowledge and experiences from across their education. She calls her innovation "Mapping Connections for Sustainable Design."

"When our students get out into the world, they are facing really complex problems that require them to balance a lot of different objectives," Barrella said. "One of the focuses of our program is thinking about sustainable design as a holistic problem solving process. So our students are thinking about the technical aspects to the solutions but they're also thinking about how that fits into the broader social context, what the economic implications are as well as the environmental impacts. Sustainable design is being able to make decisions that are balancing or optimizing those different competing objectives."

Henriques' initiative explores opportunities in engineering for first-year students.  In many engineering programs, classes for first-year students are often referred to as "weed out" courses that are designed to be difficult and encourage some students to rethink their major. "We wanted to reimagine and reinvent that first-year experience in such a way that you could inspire students to be creative problem solvers from day one and give them the skills that would create this environment for success in the classroom and in their profession," Henriques said.

Gipson began an initiative that gives upper class engineering students opportunities to practice leadership skills by mentoring first-year engineering students.

The conference began Sunday and runs through Wednesday.

Published Oct. 27, 2014

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Published: Monday, October 27, 2014

Last Updated: Thursday, October 20, 2016

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