Campus: Cal Poly San Luis Obispo -- October 10, 2005
Cal Poly Receives $1 Million Grant to Redesign Engineering Education
to Retain Women, Minorities
Cal Poly's Materials Engineering Department has received a $1 million grant from the National
Science Foundation to redesign its materials engineering education program.
"The 're-engineering' of the Materials Engineering degree curriculum is intended to attract
and retain more women and minorities while preparing all students to solve increasingly complex
global problems," according to Materials Engineering Department Chair and Professor Linda
The Materials Engineering Department and its Industrial Advisory Board have been exploring
new teaching methods and curriculum since 2002. Since then, the department has assembled a
team of more than 25 professors and experts from various colleges and departments at Cal Poly
and other universities, agencies and companies across the nation. The team reviewed education
research findings and "best practices" from university education programs around the country
before incorporating its findings into a plan for changing materials engineering education
at Cal Poly.
The cross-campus group named the coursework overhaul plan "TriAD: Triple Bottom Line Awareness
"The proposed changes represent an urgency to create a more diverse population of engineers
that are more representative of society as a whole and to instill in students a new way of
thinking about balancing economics, the environment, and society's needs -- what we're calling
the 'triple bottom line,'" said Professor Vanasupa.
"One of our basic premises is that young people, especially women and students from
underrepresented groups, will be motivated to study and apply their creative energies to
benefit society if they are aware of society's needs and know they can make a difference,"
The $1 million, 3-year grant from the NSF will pay for faculty time to develop, implement and
test the effectiveness of the new curriculum and laboratory exercises. Although the Materials
Engineering faculty have piloted many of the course changes already, the grant funding will
enable professors to launch a cohesive, team-taught, project-based learning approach for the
students' junior year, Vanasupa said.
"The college of engineering is greatly encouraged by this exceptional level of support from
NSF, given the strong national competition for such awards. We anticipate many positive
outcomes from this project -- outcomes that will benefit not just Cal Poly, but also other
universities nationwide," said Unny Menon, associate dean.
The proposed curricular revision will change roughly 80 percent of the materials engineering
courses at Cal Poly. Changes include:
The redesigned materials engineering curriculum will also emphasize ethical, environmental,
health and safety, sustainability, social, political and manufacturing issues.
- Linking students in peer groups for learning and support during freshmen and sophomore
years -- when students are most likely to drop out of engineering
- Increasing interaction between students and faculty, with faculty taking on more
"coaching" roles with students
- Encouraging student appreciation for communications, math and science skills and
"deeper learning" in undergraduate courses in those areas
- Providing more "real world" engineering applications and learning experiences
- Including a "service learning" requirement for undergraduate materials engineering
As part of the change, some newly admitted materials engineering students will complete
pre-college, web-based tutorials before coming to campus. The department will monitor whether
the tutorials increase student success.
The service learning component of the curriculum is key, Vanasupa said, because it gives
students a chance to see how their engineering skills and problem-solving abilities can help
people in need.
So far, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, National Instruments, Texas Instruments and the
Semiconductor Industry Association have contacted the National Science Foundation to express
interest in the service-learning portion of the new curriculum.
For more details on the Materials Engineering Department or the launch of its new curriculum,
Contact: Linda Vanasupa, Chair, Materials Engineering (805) 756-1537,