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The History of Chemical Engineering and Pedagogy: The Paradox of Tradition and Innovation

Phillip C. Wankat, Chemical Engineering, Purdue University, Forney Hall of Chemical Engineering, 480 Stadium Mall Drive, West Lafayette, IN 47907

The first US chemical engineering program was started at MIT six score years ago. Since that time we have seen chemical engineering go through growth spurts (or bubbles if you prefer) and periods of entrenchment (or stagnation). The latest manifestation has been attempts to broaden chemical engineering to add product engineering, biology and nanotechnology to the traditional areas of process engineering, chemistry and energy. Although there have been attempts to add flexibility to the curriculum, the chemical engineering curriculum has generally been monolithic (all students take almost identical sequences of courses) and extremely hierarchical. In many ways the curriculum structure and the teaching of chemical engineering is one of the more traditional of the engineering disciplines. Manifestations of this include the tremendous staying power of many chemical engineering textbooks and the relatively slow adoption of computer use in the curriculum. Chemical engineering has been somewhat schizophrenic departments have been notably unwilling (until recently) to expand the borders of the curriculum to expand the discipline as known by undergraduates, but chemical engineering research has covered all areas in which chemical engineers believe they can make a contribution.

Chemical Engineering has been at the forefront of helping new professors learn how to teach and individual chemical engineering professors have been leaders in the push for engineering education reform, yet most ChE professors insist on lecturing. Examples of chemical engineering leadership in pedagogy include the Chemical Engineering Division of ASEE Summer School every five years, the Division's publication of the journal Chemical Engineering Education, and the leadership of the National Effective Teaching Institute by chemical engineers. Individual efforts include the development of the guided design method under the leadership of chemical engineer Charles Wales, the work introducing Problem Based Learning into engineering and enormous efforts on problem solving by Don Woods, the textbook Teaching Engineering, and the championing of cooperative group learning by Richard Felder and others.

This paper will provide a brief history of chemical engineering education and the pedagogies employed in chemical engineering education in an attempt to make sense of the paradoxes inherent in chemical engineering education.