Creating a sustainable framework for capstone experiences in Chemical Engineering

TitleCreating a sustainable framework for capstone experiences in Chemical Engineering
Faculty/College/UnitApplied Science
Duration2 Year
Funding Details
Year 1: Project TitleStudent-led Capstone Laboratory Experience
Year 1: Project YearYear 1
Year 1: Funding Year2005/2006
Year 1: Project TypeSmall TLEF
Year 1: Principal InvestigatorKevin Smith
Year 1: Funded Amount29,614
Year 1: Summary

This proposal targets the redevelopment and enhancement of four senior lab experiments in CHBE 464. The experiments will become senior capstone projects. Students will have the opportunity to go beyond their typical laboratory experience and be challenged by complex, real-wor1d, problem-based projects. In the context of each experiment, students will examine issues of sustainability and environmental stewardship, the application of the experimental process to industrial and societal needs, and, finally, will critically examine the experimental design.

Many laboratory course experiences do not engage students in higher level application of course concepts. Students are left to "plug and chug” as they follow each week's "recipe”. This proposal will allow us create and pilot a new model for the set-up and delivery of a fourth-year capstone lab in CHBE 464. A capstone project represents the culmination of a student's academic experience; this is achieved by providing a large scale, complex, real-wor1d project based experience that integrates and builds on all aspects of their undergraduate studies. It is proposed that the lab be redeveloped to provide rich, scenario-based research and development opportunities for students to apply course concepts to real-world situations and issues. Students will design, build and report on projects that will extend a specific base laboratory experiment with the goal of addressing either issues of sustainability and environmental stewardship, real-world examples of industrial scale process and optimization, or experimental design.

In fall 2005, we will pilot this new approach through 4 experiments in CHBE 464. We will select a subset of students (n=24) from CHBE 464 for this pilot project. Keeping the pilot small will allows us to extensively monitor the students' progress and success, and allow us to continue developing supporting material as they are required. Ultimately, the new methods will be scaled to the entire class of CHBE 464 (n=75), as well as extended to include all experiments in this course. There has also been interest in this approach from instructors in other courses. There is the potential that this initiative will benefit a large number of students in a large number of courses.

The writing component for these pilot labs will build on the writing materials and methods developed with the 2004-2005 TLEF grant: "Implementing an innovative course model for traditional laboratory courses." Graduate students will develop the specific writing exemplars, scenarios, background documents and project descriptions (especially defining the breadth/scope of possible projects). We will use a dedicated TA in the first year of this pilot project to monitor student progress, the effectiveness of our methods, and to continue to adapt and develop materials to support the pilot in real time.

Attitudes towards sustainability, life-long learning, real-world application, and design are important aspects that we must develop in our students if they are to succeed in the increasingly competitive global marketplace.

Year 2: Project YearYear 2
Year 2: Funding Year2006/2007
Year 2: Project TypeSmall TLEF
Year 2: Principal InvestigatorKevin Smith
Year 2: Funded Amount16,114
Year 2: Summary

This proposal targets the continued enhancement and development of our undergraduate laboratory program based on the successful CHBE 464 student-led capstone experiment pilot project. The pilot project was supported by the 2005-2006 TLEF grant "Student-led Capstone Laboratory Experience". To further enhance the development and long-term sustainability of this project, the role of teaching assistants has to be increased to make them a more integral part of the project management and facilitation process.

Currently, the redeveloped laboratory course consists of four capstone problem-based experiments. All students complete one of the experiments either in the first or second term. These experiments are facilitated by four faculty members (two professors and two instructors). The Department would like to expand this successful pilot project, but this would require TA support and additional experiments. The objectives of this proposal are to develop resources and people that will allow us to offer two capstone laboratory experiences to all students in CHBE 464 (N=80). We propose to (1) develop six additional new capstone experiments to be available in the 2006-2007 academic year, (2) design and implement a teaching assistant training program that will provide the high level of skills and training that the teaching assistants will require to successfully facilitate the capstone experience, and (3) create materials and rubrics required to develop a well crafted capstone laboratory course model that supports and scaffolds the student learning experience.

The current pilot project has received very positive feedback from our fourth-year Chemical and Biological Engineering students. The capstone projects have provided an environment in which our students could learn in a more authentic real-world context with a focus on both problem solving and meta-skills (including teamwork, oral and written communication). Thus, the capstone projects effectively prepare the students for the rapidly changing demands of the global workplace by teaching them skill sets that are otherwise unattainable in their curriculum.