June 13, 2017

New center at Purdue to transform mechanical engineering education

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A new center launched this week at Purdue University will seek to transform mechanical engineering education and establish a collaboration with industry to better transition students to the workforce.

The Mechanical Engineering Education Research Center at Purdue, or MEERCat Purdue, will leverage about $6 million of federally-funded research focusing on educating engineers, in collaborations involving faculty from Purdue’s School of Engineering Education and the School of Mechanical Engineering.

“We’ve got a really vibrant collaboration between engineering education and mechanical engineering,” said Edward Berger, executive director of the research center and an associate professor of engineering education and mechanical engineering. “This center gives a powerful identity to the basic research and research-to-practice projects we’re working on to improve student outcomes and professional formation.”

Through MEERCat, Purdue will create an industry-university research consortium to collaborate with industry partners focusing on the undergraduate-to-workforce transition. (Video available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLuRe8-cleo)

“This is a first-of-its-kind research consortium that focuses on the massively important challenge of the school-to-workforce transition,” Berger said. “Everyone stands to gain from improvements in this process: students enter organizations in which they can thrive as people and continue to develop as engineers; employers train and support happy and productive engineers who persist with their organization and grow into leaders.”

Jennifer DeBoer, an assistant professor of engineering education and the MEERCat director of research, said: “This is an exciting extension of the collaborations we’ve been building between engineering education research and mechanical engineering practice.”

Research based at the center will include work related to the Purdue Mechanics Freeform Classroom. The freeform classroom allows students in challenging engineering courses to access hundreds of instructional videos and animations while encouraging interaction with each other and faculty online.

Research to measure the effectiveness of the Freeform Classroom is being led by DeBoer and Berger. The research is part of a project funded over four years with a $1.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

The Freeform Classroom approach has been used since 2009 to teach a sophomore-level dynamics course and was pioneered by Charles Krousgrill, a Purdue professor of mechanical engineering. He and mechanical engineering professor Jeffrey Rhoads, MEERCat director of practice, have expanded and led efforts to refine and implement the Freeform Classroom for dynamics, a key introductory course focusing on engineering systems in motion.

The Freeform Classroom could play a role in boosting the number and quality of engineering graduates, in part by helping sophomore-level students overcome daunting challenges in core engineering courses. (Video available at https://youtu.be/Z3eUbnCDcf4)

Research in MEERCat also will include work related to Purdue RED, an initiative that strives to transform the Purdue mechanical engineering learning experience for students, staff and faculty.

Angela Goldenstein, managing director of MEERCat, said the center is not just focused on the technical side of engineering education.

“We already know our students are incredibly strong technically, but we want to make sure they’re also building communication, leadership and entrepreneurial skills so they’re ready for success on day one,” she said. “RED and Freeform are both iterative initiatives where we’re taking what we’re learning and directly applying changes both in and outside the classroom to impact our students’ holistic learning environment.” 

Writers: Emil Venere, 765-494-3470, venere@purdue.edu 

Brian L. Huchel, 765-494-2084, bhuchel@purdue.edu 

Sources: Jennifer DeBoer, 765-496-0195, deboerj@purdue.edu

Edward Berger, 765-496-0193, bergere@purdue.edu

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