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Chemical Engineering Undergraduate Curriculum Reform, Development and Assessment: a "Strings" Approach

Lale Yurttas and Larissa Pchenitchnaia. Chemical Engineering, Texas A&M University, M.S.3122, College Station, TX 77845-3122

In a time of rapid change, academic programs must experiment and evolve in order to keep pace with advances in knowledge, changes in professional practice, and shifting conditions in society. The need for responsive academic programs is particularly a concern in scientific and technological fields where the growth of knowledge is exponential. Three chemical engineering departments at three different institutions are continuing their efforts to restructure their four-year undergraduate curricula to achieve four objectives. Students will be able to a) apply fundamental ideas in chemical engineering over a greatly expanded range of time and length scales; b) apply ChE fundamental ideas to emerging application areas; c) construct solutions for more complex, more open-ended synthesis tasks with greater facility; and d) transfer fundamentals and knowledge to novel challenges. Three major strategies for project implementation include (1) curriculum content reform and development; (2) integrated student assessment, and (3) faculty and student development initiatives. The two key strategies for curriculum content reform and development are (i) the process of reformulation of part of the curriculum using four course strings and (ii) construction of interlinked curriculum components. This paper will describe the process and implementation of the “strings” approach to curriculum reform and development and in particular to assessment.

The “strings” approach involves organizing undergraduate ChE courses into four course strings: (1) thermodynamics and kinetics; (2) emerging fundamentals and applications; (2) transport phenomena; and (4) systems design. Course string faculty committees formed address the following key issues: what must undergraduate engineers learn/accomplish in the course string to be successful throughout their academic career and in the next generation professional settings; what obstacles exist to providing the necessary educational experiences; and how can we effect change and what changes (integration) need to be made to an existing curriculum. Course string faculty committees hold regular meetings to address these questions. Strategies for implementation of course portfolios and integrated assessment of course objectives and outcomes in preparation for ABET review are also part of discussions by faculty committees. In the past academic year, the committee members redefined expectations of each course as well as educational goals of each course and measurable outcomes. The alignment of each course's educational objectives and outcomes and expectations of courses from students was evaluated. Syllabi analysis provided invaluable information to enhance the alignment of the courses. The end-of-semester faculty and student evaluations provided direct and indirect feedback for assessment. The process, experiences, and findings will be presented.

Web Page: www.che.tamu.edu/research/engineering-education