387872 Bridging the Gap Between Academia and Industry: Designing Curricula to Prepare Students for the Profession

Sunday, November 16, 2014
Galleria Exhibit Hall (Hilton Atlanta)
Laura Hirshfield, Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR

One purpose of an undergraduate engineering education is to prepare students to become practicing engineers. However, in recent years, industry has expressed concern that while graduating students are technically competent, they are less prepared for other aspects of engineering jobs. Curricula are well-designed to convey technical content, but focus less on skills such as communication, project management, creativity, and teamwork. Although capstone design courses emphasize the importance of working in teams and communicating progress, students would be better prepared for industry if this emphasis were woven throughout the entire undergraduate engineering curriculum. My research interests lie in developing innovative ways to equip students with these skills early on and throughout their entire undergraduate education, preparing them to attack open-ended problems, develop innovative solutions, communicate ideas, interact with peers, and manage their projects and time.

My doctoral work at Purdue University involved working closely with industry partners to develop an automation and control system for a pharmaceutical manufacturing process that utilized inkjet printing technology. This project not only gave me a solid foundation in chemical engineering fundamentals, but also convinced me of the importance of closely linking curricula with industry principles in order to better prepare students to serve the needs of the profession. During my graduate studies, I sought out many leadership opportunities, including being president of our Graduate Student Organization and heading Future Faculty seminars for interested graduate students. I also devoted a large portion of my time to teaching, receiving two teaching awards for my semesters as a teaching assistant. Through my research, leadership and teaching experiences, I realized that there was an opportunity to improve curricula and pedagogy to better prepare future engineers, leading to my current focus on engineering education research.

My current post-doctoral research at Oregon State University focuses on developing technology to instill conceptual understanding in students through different pedagogical approaches. Through the use of tools such as the AIChE Concept Warehouse and the Industrially-Situated Virtual Laboratory Project, we focus on methods that challenge students to grasp fundamental concepts, as opposed to teaching students to memorize content and algorithmically solve problems. These approaches help to improve knowledge retention, conceptual understanding and transfer and also help to better prepare students to work with the open-ended problems they will encounter as practicing engineers. As a professor, I plan to continue in this area of research by investigating student learning and creating ways to bridge the gap between education and industry. I want to help students develop the skills vital to a career in engineering throughout their entire course of study, better preparing them to work in a challenging professional environment. I look forward to transforming engineering curricula while educating and developing future engineers.

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