Engineering Faculty Named Drexel KEEN Fellows

Students working in engineering lab

Earlier this year, Drexel’s College of Engineering joined the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network (KEEN), a partnership of more than 50 colleges and universities across the United States dedicated to strengthening engineering education and reinforcing the mindset that equips engineers to create value for society in a rapidly changing world. 

As part of the partnership, Patrick Gurian, PhD, professor of civil, architectural and environmental engineering (CAEE) and director of first year experience, along with co-PIs Johanna Casale, PhD, assistant teaching professor of engineering leadership and society and Antonios Kontsos, PhD, professor of mechanical engineering and mechanics received funding to recruit faculty to serve as Drexel KEEN Fellows who will work to develop content for KEEN’s Engineering Unleased website, a community-sourced collection of syllabi, lab activities, and other course resources.

The partnership with KEEN started with faculty attending workshops on instructional approaches for undergraduate engineering.

“We knew that we had several faculty who had exposure to KEEN’s approaches, so we thought we’d propose to the foundation that we recruit seven more faculty here, give them some training on the methods, and have them go through one cycle of learning from and adding to the Engineering Unleashed database.”

ENG 113, Drexel’s first-year engineering design class, was identified as the first test case for the practice.

“KEEN’s engineering education framework revolves around three C’s — curiosity, connections, and creating value — to ensure that engineers have a mindset to continually seek opportunities that will have a positive impact on the world. ENG 113 is a perfect test bed, because it encourages students to engage with engineering with those same ideas in mind,” Gurian says. “The course is already designed to introduce students to specific technical concepts and see how they can apply to meeting human needs through engineering design.”

The seven faculty identified to become Drexel KEEN Fellows are Shannon Capps, PhD, assistant professor of CAEE; Dimitrios Fafalis; PhD, assistant teaching professor of mechanical engineering and mechanics (MEM); Baki Farouk, PhD, J. Harland Billings Professor in CAEE and MEM; Fei Lu, PhD, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering; Matthew Reichenbach, PhD, assistant teaching professor of CAEE; Rajveer Singh, PhD, research scientist; and Michael Waring, PhD, professor and department head of CAEE.

“I have found that centering the entire course around a specific theme (designing and constructing a wood bridge) has successfully contextualized the material for students.”
Matthew Reichenbach

During the winter and spring terms, the KEEN Fellows are using the Engineering Unleashed website to source materials for their ENG 113 classes. Reichenbach says that the resource was invaluable in planning his class.

“I had a rough idea in mind as to how I would construct my section beforehand, but the website offered numerous example projects produced by other faculty around the country,” he says. “I was able to review similar hands-on, structural engineering projects that allowed me to fine-tune my own course curriculum, which is focused on an engineered popsicle-stick bridge competition. It really sparked my brainstorming.”

The crowd-tested materials also proved a benefit to students taking ENG 113.

“I have found that centering the entire course around a specific theme (designing and constructing a wood bridge) has successfully contextualized the material for students,” Reichenbach says. “In future terms, I would like to implement similar strategies into my other courses.”

By the end of the academic year, they are expected to contribute “cards” – pieces of content that can range from lesson plans to reading materials to instructions for labs — back to the site.

“My plan is to upload the essential documentation of the course and competition including the syllabus, lab guidelines, and the competition rules,” Reichenbach says. “My hope is that this material inspires other teachers to pursue project-based learning in their classrooms. I am also eager to communicate and collaborate with others once that material is posted on the site.”

Gurian believes that the communal aspect of KEEN is one of its strongest features.

“A big problem in driving curricular innovation has been transferring things from one school to the next,” he explains. “So the point of the grant — and the Engineering Unleashed website — is to bridge that gap. All engineering faculty can join,  download materials, iterate on them for their specific needs, and upload new versions. As a group, we’re creating best practice curricula for engineering.”

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