Innovation in Action

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Day of Innovation Graphic, Join us November 16, 2009
Virtual Brainstorming Sessions
Monday, November 16, 2009
11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

We'll pose questions, tackle problems, and toss around ideas and possible solutions for issues affecting our region. Get involved from your own desktop! Or join us on campus at one of the brainstorming kiosks available in the Student Union Atrium. LEARN MORE...

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Frans Johansson
Author of the bestseller The Medici Effect

April 9, 2010
9:15 a.m., Apollo Room, Student Union
Free and open to the public

John Corvino, Ph.D.
Philosophy professor and "gay moralist"

April 20, 2010
7 p.m., Apollo Room, Student Union
Free and open to the public

Ted Rall
Nationally syndicated editorial cartoonist

May 3, 2010
7 p.m., Apollo Room, Student Union
Free and open to the public

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Reforming math education for engineering students

Teachers say there are moments in mathematics classes when a math concept "clicks" with a student.

But for many first-year college students starting an engineering curriculum with a required calculus course, sometimes that click doesn't happen. And it leads many students to drop out of engineering to switch majors, or drop out of college altogether.

It's a primary reason the United States' graduation of engineers has slowed compared to other countries, a trend warned about in the 2005 National Academy of Sciences' white paper, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm." The paper warned policymakers that the U.S. faced immense challenges in maintaining its competitiveness with countries like China and India, who combined graduated 13 times more engineers than the U.S. in 2004.

But soon 15 colleges around the country will learn how to eliminate that bottleneck in their engineering programs from Wright State University's successful engineering mathematics education reform model, which has developed new ways to teach math in engineering courses to help students overcome math hurdles and improve graduation rates.

A new $2 million National Science Foundation grant awarded this summer to the program, "A National Model for Engineering Mathematics," will help those institutions adopt the new curriculum developed by Nathan Klingbeil, professor of mechanical engineering, along with other faculty at Wright State.

"The traditional curriculum is front-ended with math prerequisites that cause students to drop out," said Klingbeil. "Every institution in the country is experiencing this."

The inability of incoming students to successfully advance past the traditional freshman calculus sequence is a primary cause of attrition in engineering programs across the country, according to Klingbeil.

"If state universities are going to answer the country’s call for graduating more engineers then we have to figure out a way of making a more accessible curriculum that has the rigor of a traditional curriculum," Klingbeil said.

The model, now in its third phase after funding from three previous NSF grants, restructured the way engineering mathematics is taught to students to improve retention and graduation. It introduces only the salient math topics actually used in core entry-level engineering courses, delivering the math in a just-in-time method.

The changes began with a new freshman-level introductory engineering mathematics course, EGR 101, taught by engineering faculty and containing distilled mathematical topics covered later in the curriculum. Students are able to advance in the engineering curriculum without first completing the required calculus sequence.

"The number one fear of students wanting to be engineers is that they won't be able to handle the math courses," Klingbeil said. "While math is really important for engineering, it's not necessarily a litmus test for whether or not you could be a great engineer."

The model makes the engineering curriculum more accessible to incoming students from diverse educational, social, and economic backgrounds and is expected to have a profound effect on the recruitment and retention of high-risk students.

In 2004–05, 78 percent of students who took the new engineering math program stayed with the program, an increase of 10 percent compared to the previous four years. The new engineering math program also improved the grades of students who took Calculus I—89 percent of the students who had taken EGR 101 before taking Calculus earned a grade of "C" or better. Sixty percent of the students who had not taken the new course earned a "C" or better in Calculus I.

Co-principal investigators are Kuldip Rattan, electrical engineering; Michael Raymer, computer science and engineering; David Reynolds, biomedical, industrial and human factors engineering; and Richard Mercer, mathematics and statistics.

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