sealPurdue News

September 1994

Purdue engineers work to improve undergrad education

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Purdue University faculty are teaching themselves new ways to improve undergraduate education in the United States.

In 1992, Jeffery L. Gray, associate professor of electrical engineering at Purdue, received a three-year, $390,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop new teaching methods to improve students' ability to learn basic science and mathematics.

Today, more than half-way through the grant, Gray and his colleagues have developed several new products and projects to help students studying two difficult areas of engineering -- solid state devices and power flow control.

Under their grant, titled "An Integrated Undergraduate Program on Semiconductor Devices for Power Flow Control," Gray and electrical engineering Professors Gerald T. Heydt, Gerold W. Neudeck and Chee-Mun Ong have developed materials to benefit more than just electrical engineering students.

"The idea for the grant was to see if we could improve cross-disciplinary education in the areas of solid state devices and power flow control," Gray explains. "But some of these approaches can be used to improve students' understanding in other areas of science and math."

Gray was invited by the National Science Foundation to a national conference this past summer in Washington, D.C., where he shared his group's ideas with more than 250 innovators in undergraduate education. The conference brought together college and university faculty from science, mathematics and engineering.

Gray says courses in solid state devices and power control traditionally are taught separately, but students studying one area need to learn something about the other.

"The power area deals with controlling large amounts of power, from electric vehicles to electric utilities," he says. "Solid state devices are used in power flow control, and just about every other area of electrical engineering.

"We wanted students in the power area to have at least some idea of how the controlling devices they use operate. Similarly, if the solid state students know what some of the applications of their devices are, they might be able to design better devices."

Here are three techniques Gray and his colleagues are using to integrate these two areas:

Gray took a draft of the notes with him to the conference in Washington.

Other projects Gray's team is working on include a new class at Purdue devoted to power electronics, and videotapes demonstrating how to use laboratory equipment and conduct various experiments. Next summer, Gray and his colleagues will sponsor a workshop to present the materials they have developed to other academics.

"Undergraduate education is always changing, and it's up to the educators to keep up with the changing needs of students," Gray said. "Hopefully our efforts at Purdue will make an impact."

Sources: Jeffery Gray, (765( 494-3478; Internet,
Dr. Ann McNeal, Division of Undergraduate Education, National Science Foundation, (703) 306-1666
Writer: Amanda Siegfried, (765( 494-4709; Internet,
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

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