Spectrum - Volume 18 Issue 07 October 5, 1995 - NSF funds SUCCEED program

A non-profit publication of the Office of the University Relations of Virginia Tech,
including The Conductor , a special section of the Spectrum printed 4 times a year

NSF funds SUCCEED program

By Liz Crumbley

Spectrum Volume 18 Issue 07 - October 5, 1995

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has committed $3 million in renewed funding for the Southeastern University and College Coalition for Engineering Education's (SUCCEED) work in preparing young engineers for 21st century educational and global industrial demands.

SUCCEED sponsors numerous educational projects at Virginia Tech, which is one of eight coalition member schools. With SUCCEED funding at Tech, freshmen are working on senior design projects, civil engineering majors are studying statics on CD-ROM's, minority students are getting their first taste of university life in summer camps, and faculty members are surveying the climate for women in engineering.

Pamela Kurstedt, the Tech representative for SUCCEED and an assistant dean of engineering, says the coalition was conceived in the early 1990s when the NSF issued a request for proposals for projects to combat the declining number of students pursuing engineering and science. Deans from several southeastern engineering schools got together to respond to the NSF request and formed the coalition, which includes Clemson University, FAMU/FSU College of Engineering, University of Florida, Georgia Tech, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, North Carolina State University, North Carolina A&T State University, and Virginia Tech. The NSF committed $15 million in funding for SUCCEED in 1992.

The coalition's center for technology and communication is directed by Virginia Tech's Assistant Dean for Engineering Computing Joe Tront, and much of the work for this facet of SUCCEED is conducted in the college's MultiMedia Lab. Tront says that 23 researchers from engineering, computer science, and education technology have received SUCCEED funding to develop multimedia programs for classroom use. They've already produced a CD-ROM package for engineering freshmen that includes programs on engineering statics, dynamics, an introduction to electrical engineering, introductory physics, a DOS tutorial, geotechnics, Total Quality Management, and a tour of the college.

The statics program was developed by Alumni Distinguished Professor Siegfried Holzer of civil engineering and three graduate students. Since its release a year ago, the statics software has been requested for use by more than 50 faculty members from 31 universities. The program also can be found on the World Wide Web. "Technology will drastically change how we learn and work, making those environments more stimulating and effective," Holzer said. His students, who are using the statics software for the first time this fall semester, can call up background information and illustrative annotations. Holzer believes this allows them to experience statics, rather than simply memorize facts and theories. Another SUCCEED-funded program at Tech enables freshmen in engineering fundamentals classes to work with seniors on aerospace and mechanical engineering design projects. Jim Marchman of Aerospace and ocean engineering, a faculty coordinator for the program, says the experience "gives freshmen a taste of where they're going with their education." Each year, freshmen are selected to join seniors in the second semester of work on aircraft design, spacecraft design, and mechanical engineering design projects. "The students involved in this program do about 10 times as much work as most other freshmen," comments Marchman, "and they say they love every minute of it."

Preparing minority students for their freshman year is one of the many jobs of Bevlee Watford, director of Minority Engineering Programs. Watford secured a SUCCEED grant to create ASPIRE (Academic Summer Program Introducing Resources for Engineers) a five-week summer program through which minority engineering students take classes in chemistry, math, and computer skills, as well as seminars in resume writing, time management, registration, job interviews, and other academic and professional skills. They live on campus and get to know some of the faculty members. "ASPIRE provides an intense learning experience," Watford says.

The educational climate for women in engineering is the subject of a SUCCEED-funded survey conducted at Tech and several other coalition schools. Headed up by Deidre Hirschfeld, an assistant professor of engineering fundamentals at Tech, the survey questioned both female and male students in an attempt to get a clear view of gender issues facing engineering students. The results of the survey are not yet available, Hirschfeld says, "but we had a phenomenal response." Normally, fewer than 20 percent of those surveyed by mail respond, but this survey reaped a 65-percent response rate from Tech students and a 40-percent response rate from those at other SUCCEED schools. Hirschfeld hopes the survey will establish a database that can be used to assess the current engineering education climate and monitor changes in the future.