Montana State University

MSU launches new center designed to improve engineering students’ success

September 27, 2016 -- Denise Hoepfner, MSU News Service

MSU has launched the Montana Engineering Education Research Center within the College of Engineering that will bring together an interdisciplinary team with the goal of improving engineering students' success. Shown is a rendering of Asbjornson Hall, the future home of the College of Engineering.

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
msunews@montana.edu

BOZEMAN -- Montana State University has launched a new center within the College of Engineering that is designed to position the college and MSU as a national leader in engineering education research.

The new Montana Engineering Education Research Center was approved Sept. 15 by the Montana Board of Regents. Its purpose is to enable MSU faculty to tackle big research questions in engineering education with the ultimate goal of improving student success.

Faculty conducting research at the center will seek to understand what motivates students to pursue an engineering degree, persist to graduation and enter -- and remain -- in the engineering workforce, said Brock LaMeres, associate professor in the MSU Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

This research is necessary in order to educate diverse communities of engineering students so they are prepared to solve 21st century challenges, LaMeres said.

“We need more engineers, more diverse engineers and engineers who are better prepared to solve complex problems in an interdisciplinary, global context,” he said. “MSU should be an important player in this national imperative.”

LaMeres also noted that research conducted in the center will align with goals laid out by MSU’s strategic plan.

“The collective activity of the MEERC will directly contribute to MSU's strategic plan goals of preparing students to graduate equipped for careers and further education and of raising MSU’s national and international prominence in research, creativity, and scholarly achievement,” he said.

LaMeres, who spearheaded the effort on behalf of a group of engineering faculty involved in education research, pointed to a number of factors that motivated its creation. College of Engineering faculty currently have four active grants totaling $800,000 from the National Science Foundation to conduct educational research. There is also a push by national funding agencies to use interdisciplinary teams to solve the world’s most pressing problems. And, there is an increase in research funding opportunities to advance the understanding of how to better prepare the engineering workforce and increase diversity within the field.

Paul Gannon, associate professor in MSU’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering who is active in engineering education research, said that pooling the efforts and expertise of MSU faculty will benefit the university in dollars and discoveries.

“Collectively, faculty within the center will be able to win external funding and output scholarly work at a rate that is higher than individual faculty working alone,” Gannon said, adding that the center will also pull faculty from the fields of behavioral and social sciences and education.

Additionally, Gannon said, the planned Norm Asbjornson Hall will provide an educational laboratory where researchers can develop, test and assess educational interventions and innovations.

“The creation of the MEERC, in conjunction with this new building – whose theme is engineering innovation – will aid us in becoming nationally recognized in the engineering education research arena,” he said.

Specifically, goals of the center include:

  • Increasing engineering education research productivity
  • Initiating research studies with the College of Engineering on student success
  • Implementing interventions with the College of Engineering to improve student success
  • Enhancing doctoral training
  • Establishing MSU as a leader within the American Society for Engineering Education

The initial activities of the center will be funded using a combination of the existing educational grants underway and support from the dean of the College of Engineering.  During the center’s three-year start-up period, researchers will focus on initiating large-scale research efforts to bring in sustaining funds.

MSU’s fastest-growing college, the College of Engineering boasts nearly 4,000 students -- a 90 percent increase from 2,065 students in 2008 -- and 90 faculty members, according to Christine Foreman, the college’s associate dean of student success. It offers 11 degrees, as well as master’s and doctoral programs.

LaMeres said discoveries made at the center will fulfill MSU’s strategic plan goal of integrating learning, discovery and engagement to improve the world.

“The discoveries made at the center will potentially have a broader impact across our state and, ultimately, could improve engineering education nationally,” he said.

Brock LaMeres, lameres@montana.edu or (406) 994-5987