Revolutionizing Engineering Departments program
In December of 2020, our Environmental Engineering program was awarded a National Science Foundation award from the Improving Undergraduate STEM Education/Professional Formation of Engineers (IUSE/PFE) Revolutionizing Engineering Departments (RED) program. This 5-year, $1 million dollar grant is intended to transform undergraduate education.
The proposal, titled Sustainable TRansformation of Environmental engineering Education for Modern society (STREEM) is intended to transform the undergraduate program by fostering the faculty culture change needed to transform the traditional topic-focused course curriculum to the integrated project based model developed around key knowledge threads and progressive problem-based learning activities. The environmental engineering program at MSU can lead this change due to a unique alignment of faculty and institutional support.
The ‘river of knowledge’ approach outlined in the STREEM proposal and shows how the IPBC model will blend technical, economic, and social knowledge and skills through the four years of the undergraduate degree. These knowledge threads will be designed to also incorporate concepts covered in other existing topic-focused courses and connect them to workplace environmental engineering problems.
Faculty will use the technical thread to integrate math and science concepts with critical environmental engineering concepts, providing students with context to help retain knowledge and realize relevance in practice. For example, the chemistry concept of solubility (covered in Freshman chemistry) becomes more tangible and memorable in the context of coagulation processes in water treatment (typically covered in the Junior or Senior year). The proposed approach would allow students to make this critical connection during the freshman year and improve understanding and retention. Likewise, the economic thread will allow faculty to integrate life cycle costs and risk assessment with fundamental business, economics, probability, and statistics concepts. For example, estimating the likelihood and consequence of a flood requires integration of concepts from economics and statistics. Faculty will employ the social thread to emphasize the environmental engineers’ role in educating the public and policy makers. To be effective in this role, the engineer must understand how leadership, ethics, law and regulations, and the public process influence decisions and projects. For example, designing a new wastewater treatment facility must include an understanding of the public processes for funding and site selection and how to effectively communicate to a lay audience.