We are a group of undergraduate and graduate students who developed a research-focused chemical engineering course during 2018 and launched it during the Winter 2019 semester. The course will be offered again during the Winter 2020 semester and its objectives are the following:
Objective 1: Expose students to the ChE department’s ongoing research to prepare them more effectively for the evolving nature of our discipline.
In our curriculum, the gap that exists between the undergraduate and graduate levels represents an opportunity for improving how we prepare undergraduates for the modern chemical engineering discipline. We posit that student experience and learning can benefit significantly if the gap is bridged through integration of research into the undergraduate curriculum. Exposing undergraduates to the frontiers of research while teaching them skills commonly employed by researchers would complement the traditional ChE curriculum and improve student preparation for the rapidly evolving and interdisciplinary nature of our field.
Objective 2: Equip students with introductory research skills so that they can contribute more rapidly and effectively in their future research endeavors within and beyond academia.
When an undergraduate student joins a research group, valuable time is initially spent learning elementary literature review, experimental, and/or computational skills. Exposure to such skills prior to joining a group would allow students more time to understand the project and begin probing original research questions. Although the skills we introduce here are not all-encompassing, students are likely to be less hesitant and better equipped to learn new elementary skills in a specific research group as a result of their experience.
Objective 3: Introduce students to hands-on experimental and computational applications of a ChE education earlier in the curriculum.
Students’ first encounter of a ChE lab course is delayed, occurring only towards the end of their junior year (ChE 360). Having an opportunity to apply the content learned in lecture courses to a hands-on wet and dry lab setting earlier in the curriculum would complement student learning of lecture content and prepare them better for subsequent ChE lab courses, internships, and/or research opportunities. Moreover, a course like ChE 496-001 can serve as a medium through which our curriculum exposes students to hands-on computational applications of ChE that are becoming increasingly valued in the workforce.
Objective 4: Better inform the decision-making process for students considering ChE as a major.
When offered during the fall semester, a research-focused ChE course would expose students to additional possibilities of a ChE degree that would complement the exposure that ChE 230 currently provides. As ChE 230 introduces students to the field’s theoretical underpinnings with some applications, a research-focused course would simultaneously provide a window into modern, cutting-edge applications of ChE. What’s more, the course provides the opportunity for students to be mindful and curious of real applications of traditional ChE concepts they learn in future courses without laying the burden of proof on the instructors alone. We expect that the contributions from ChE 230 and ChE 496 can synergistically help students better understand ChE and supplement their decision-making process when considering it as a major.