Virginia Tech®home

Grant Funded Projects

Currently funded grant projects in Engineering Education by area.

This project will advance efforts of the innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program to better understand and promote practices that increase students' motivations and capacities to pursue careers in fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) by producing empirical findings and/or research tools that contribute to knowledge about which models and interventions with K-12 students and teachers are most likely to increase capacity in the STEM and STEM-cognate intensive workforce of the future. This project is focused on a collaborative design, implementation, and study of recurrent engineering-focused interventions with middle school youth in three rural and Appalachian communities. The intervention efforts will broaden middle schoolers' participation and understanding of what engineering is, what engineers do, and help dispel the notion that it is hard and requires a love of mathematics and science. The project has the potential for recruiting future engineers who are unaware of their abilities and career possibilities because of the rural Appalachian communities in which they live. Broadening participation in engineering remains a critical national priority and this project has the potential to prevent the loss of smart capable students from engineering education and career pathways. The proposed partnership with school educators and industry experts will established an open-source engineering outreach curriculum (iFixit) and facilitate regular in-class interventions throughout the academic year.

The study design enables the examination of the participants and interventions across time and case-site contexts, where the data are collected at individual-level to look for changes over time while within-case and cross-case examination of the community-level impacts will be analyzed. The objective will be to achieve meaningful results of the two goals: Goal 1- to increase youth awareness of, interest in, and readiness for diverse engineering related careers and educational pathways which is a goal that hinges on a collaboratively designed and facilitated set of monthly interventions in a curricular setting and Goal 2- to build capacity for schools to sustainably integrate engineering skills and knowledge of diverse engineering-related careers and educational pathways aimed at both the individual-level with a focus on teachers as influential change makers as well as at the community-level focused on sustainable cross-sector collaborations. The project will offer in-school curriculum activities (interventions) six times per academic year in three similar rural communities in Virginia: 1) Bedford County Public Schools 2) Giles County Public Schools, and 3) Smyth County Public Schools. All case sites are located in rural areas or near Appalachia where there is limited industry, particularly advanced industry exposes students, parents, and educators to engineering careers. Leveraging local expertise is especially critical in this project because family pressures, cultural milieu, and preference for local, stable jobs play considerable roles in how Appalachian youth choose possible careers.

EngE Collaborators - Drs. Jake Grohs & Holly Matusovich

Amount Awarded - $1,077,035

Dates - 06/2017 - 05/2020


A robust and diverse engineering workforce is essential to national security and economic competitiveness, and current rates of higher education enrollment in engineering are not sufficient to support the need. Thus, broadening participation in engineering from underrepresented groups is a critical priority. To meet this need, this project focuses on economically disadvantaged rural students, particularly women and other underrepresented groups. Traditional models of career choice stressing interest as a primary career choice driver break down in rural contexts, where instead community values, local economic drivers, and strong family networks often play a critical role. As a result, this project shifts the focus from individual students to the communities themselves to understand how key stakeholders and organizations support the career choices of rural youth. With this knowledge, the investigators will engage target rural communities in participatory design workshops so that they might leverage their unique community assets to support more of their youth, particularly underrepresented groups, to pursue engineering careers.

The project begins with focus group and individual interviews with undergraduate engineering students from selected rural high schools that are known for producing high numbers of engineering majors. These data lay the foundation for interviews with key members of students' home communities and observations of salient programs or events to provide a rich understanding of the beliefs, experiences, and values of each community. Data analysis includes both within-case and cross case analysis. Further, the results of the multi-case study will be used to guide participatory design workshops with rural schools and communities in the region that do not typically produce engineering majors. These workshops will foster dialogue that explores factors that support or hinder transfer of practices to low-producing schools and identifies policies and strategies that would enhance each community's ability to better support engineering as a potential career choice. The study uses the southwestern region of Virginia, in the Appalachian Mountains, as its primary focus, but research on career choice among rural students generally points to the potential transferability of the findings and methods. This project advances knowledge about engineering career choice and rural education by capturing the perspectives of community members who often play key roles in students' career and academic decisions, particularly in rural communities.

EngE Collaborators: Drs. Marie Paretti & Jake Grohs

Amount Awarded: $299,948

Dates: 09/2016-08/2018


This is a collaborative proposal among the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), Virginia Tech, and Purdue University, submitted to the Successful Project Expansion and Dissemination strand of the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program. It aims to expand the implementation of a NSBE-supported program, "Summer Engineering Experiences for Kids", from 14 sites in 2016, to 31 by 2019; from 3,825 3rd-5th grade African American, Hispanic, and female students in 2015, to cumulatively 27,000 across the nation over the three-year duration of the project. By 2019, a total of 42,000 students will have been impacted by the program since its inception in 2007. The project will advance efforts of the ITEST program to better understand and promote practices that increase students' motivations and capacities to pursue careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) by engaging them in a summer program through hands-on, team-based engineering design projects led by collegiate mentor-teachers. The project will use "A World in Motion"--an engineering curriculum for elementary and middle school children developed by the Society of Automotive Engineers, in addition to other STEM curricula to be incorporated across sites. Participants will experience applied engineering and computer programming learning opportunities, including engineering principles and related mathematics and science concepts and practices through selected activities. While expanding the program, researchers in the partnership will investigate the contextual factors that facilitate or constrain its implementation in order to develop a prototype with a potential to be used in various learning environments. Thus, the overall hypothesis of the work will be that organizational contexts enable, inhibit, and shape the experiences that students have, and consequently influence their outcomes.

The three research questions will be: (1) For each site and across all sites, what is the change in students' STEM-related academic and career identity, conceptual knowledge, and interpersonal and intrapersonal skills?; (2) What is the relationship between students' academic motivation (i.e., empowerment, usefulness, success, interest, caring) and their STEM-related academic and career identity, conceptual knowledge, and interpersonal and intrapersonal skills?; and (3) How do organizational context factors influence students' experiences and outcomes? To address the first question, outcome measures will be administered in a pretest-posttest format to identify changes in students' STEM-related outcomes over the course of the program. To address the second research question, the project will use multilevel modeling to incorporate site-specific contextual variables. To address the third research question, the project will employ a multi-case study approach to investigate variation in available resources and implementation strategies across sites each year. Through multiple data collection methods, the research will capture the influential contextual factors of different sites and their relationship with students' experiences and outcomes. An advisory panel comprising scholars and practitioners in engineering education, engineering outreach programs, and research will provide oversight of the project's progress and an independent mechanism for evaluation. An external evaluator will conduct both formative and summative aspects of the project. The key outcome of the effort will be a research-informed and field-tested model to increase African American, Hispanic, and female students' achievement and engagement in STEM disciplines.

EngE Collaborators: Drs. David Knight & Walter Lee

Amount Awarded: $384,748

Dates: 09/2016 - 08/2019

Engineering is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the U.S. economy. However, there is a shortage of diverse engineers and scientists in this sector. This research investigation is designed to equip engineering education researchers and other important stakeholders with the knowledge and understanding of how school stakeholders can be better positioned and/or trained to support a more diverse population of students who choose to enroll in postsecondary engineering programs. By focusing on the high school level, the investigators will pinpoint how educational inequalities (as they relate to access to school resources and the role and preparedness of high school counselors and teachers in helping students choose engineering programs) will contribute to academically capable students' decisions to major or not major in engineering, especially among underrepresented student populations. This research project is both timely and potentially impactful in helping the broader engineering community identify the structural barriers that students often experience in different high schools across the state of Virginia and how these barriers may influence underrepresented students' decisions to major or not major in engineering, even when they possess the academic profile to do so. The project also has immense potential to render important findings applicable to key engineering and non-engineering stakeholders in Virginia and beyond.

Using a mixed-method research design, data collections were organized into various phases: examining quantitative data from the Virginia Longitudinal Data System (VLDS) to explore high school and college enrollment student records for every Virginia high school student; conducting in-depth qualitative interviews of key school stakeholders (e.g., teachers, school counselors, etc.) at select high schools; collecting student survey data at the same select high schools to determine alignment between what interviewees say are influences versus what students say drive them toward or away from engineering; and collecting survey data from key stakeholders to complement the qualitative interview data. By collecting both quantitative and qualitative data, the research investigation will provide important answers to major broadening participation in engineering questions. Through workshops, policy briefs, K-12 academic conferences, and connections with specific schools selected as case studies, the investigators outlined a strong plan to share findings with K-12 practitioners and policymakers.

EngE Collaborators:  Drs. David Knight, Holly Matusovich, & Jake Grohs

Amount Awarded:  $503,093

Dates: 01/2017 - 12/2019

This I-Corps L project will examine the potential of environmental monitoring modules informed by high frequency water and weather data from a small urban watershed for 9-12th-grade students. The Learning Enhanced Watershed Assessment System (LEWAS) is a real-time, high frequency (1-3 min.) water and weather monitoring system and its cyberlearning system is called the Online Watershed Learning System (OWLS). Through early 2016, the LEWAS/OWLS-based learning modules have been used in at least 17 different undergraduate university courses in engineering, sciences and industrial design, one graduate hydrology course across four universities in three countries and four first-year engineering courses across two community colleges (Virginia Western and John Tyler) in Virginia. The LEWAS/OWLS has also been used in: one high school course, an NSF-supported Chautauqua Professional Development Short Course Series and interactive touchscreen displays available to the public on the Virginia Tech campus.

EngE Collaborators:  Dr. Vinod Lohani

Amount Awarded:  $50,000

Dates:  08/2016 - 12/2017

The world is embracing a new type of engineer - a design thinker who is innovative, flexible, and collaborative. This project aims to transform the offerings of a traditional engineering department with a new curriculum model that emphasizes design and innovation approaches, offering students a variety of pathways to a degree in a program with disciplinary depth and a range of learning experiences. This adaptive kind of engineering professional is in demand by creative industries that are committed to blending science, engineering, arts, and design to address the world's problems. The department's current curriculum is composed mostly of traditional engineering courses that are lecture and exam-heavy, with little opportunity for experiential learning or open-ended design. A combination of approaches will be developed that includes providing multiple paths through the curriculum for students, giving them the freedom to choose a variety of concentrations - from biomedical applications to digital arts - and providing outreach opportunities for K-12 students in underserved and underrepresented populations. These innovations will allow the department to attract a broader pool of students and prepare them for a wide variety of careers. These improvements not only broaden the diversity of students entering the program, they expand students' academic experiences and design and innovation skills. Applying this concept to an entire department curriculum will allow for the creation of a sustainable and scalable participatory curriculum that can be replicated by other programs. This project will also spur new connections with industry leaders, enhancing students' academic experiences while providing regional economic benefits.

The vision of this project is to transform Virginia Tech's Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering from a department with narrow curricular paths that attracts and produces a limited range of traditional engineers to one that draws and retains a wider pool of students and prepares them to be holistic professionals for a broader range of careers. To implement this vision the project will create and implement a reproducible process of curriculum transformation that dramatically enhances the emphasis on design and innovation. By combining threshold concepts theory and design-based learning, a department with just two highly determined paths - electrical engineering and computer engineering - becomes one overarching program. The multiple curricular pathways will be anchored in real world problems, forging new connections to K-12 education and to 21st century industries, including start-ups, design consultancies, and non-governmental organizations. This re-design process - broadening the pool of students entering the department while increasing potential career opportunities - is learner-centered, stakeholder-informed, and features assessment and evaluation efforts that can be used to continuously improve education in support of holistic professional development, ensuring it is sustainable and replicable within the time and resource constraints faced by any major engineering department.

EngE Collaborator:  Dr. Lisa McNair

Amount Awarded: $2 Million

Dates: 07/2016 - 06/2021

This project will study the implementation and effectiveness of a university wide ethical reasoning curriculum. The project will identify and assess the culture of ethics education that emerges from "Pathways to General Education" at Virginia Tech. The project will do a systematic analysis of institutional transformation. It will focus on the culture of STEM ethics by tracing the implementation of ethical reasoning into a new general education curriculum. The research will evaluate the transferability of this approach to other institutions. The project will contribute to broadening students' expertise beyond their field of study and to provide competencies that will transfer to the workplace. Summer institutes, webinars, on-line training modules and workshops will be developed for faculty to promote ethical considerations in teaching and doing STEM. The findings of this project will be of interest to faculty members, students, university administrators and businesses.

The project will include multi-pronged evaluations of the efficacy of a new curriculum program at Virginia Tech. It will understand the dynamics of the individual, collective, and institutional processes evident in their implementation; and test the overall utility of the ABCD theory of change as employed in this transformation effort. There are four categories of anticipated impacts from this project: 1) evaluation for direct improvement in faculty ethics teaching competency, 2) evaluation of students' ethics learning competency, 3) estimation of changes to ethical climate in an R1 STEM focused university, and 4) dissemination of findings and best practices from this project's research to other institutions. The project will collect qualitative and quantitative data through interviews, surveys and participant observation.

EngE Collaborators: Dr Diana Bairaktarova

Amount Awarded: $599,282

Dates:  08/2017 - 07/2022


The Virginia Tech Network for Engineering Transfer Students (VT-NETS) is a collaborative effort between Virginia Tech, Virginia Western Community College, and Northern Virginia Community College. This S-STEM project will establish stronger networks between Virginia Tech and the Virginia Community College System to increase the success of engineering transfer students following the community college-to-bachelor's degree pathway. The total number of scholarships awarded across all three institutions is 336 over five years. Community colleges are cost-effective gateways to four-year universities for academically talented, low-income students. The creation of a strong partnership, including early and frequent interaction between the student and the four-year institution, will enhance the potential for successful student transfer and timely completion of a baccalaureate degree. VT-NETS creates this partnership and serves as a research-based model for future collaboration between community colleges and four-year institutions.

The goal of this project is to design, implement, and empirically test curricular and co-curricular activities that support the transfer of students following the community college-to-bachelor's degree pathway to an engineering degree. Aligned with the mission of the NSF S-STEM program, the research team will use an embedded case study approach organized around the transfer student capital framework to advance understanding of how various factors affect the success, retention, transfer, and graduation in engineering for low-income students. The results of this project will help educators develop new interventions and fine-tune current efforts (e.g., making them more sustainable, efficient, and effective) to add value to existing strategies. Such integration with current student support practices will more broadly increase the success of transfer students in engineering nationwide. VT-NETS will illuminate and prioritize the human, financial, and physical resources dedicated towards these efforts and will enhance the infrastructure at the partner institutions for supporting all transfer students in engineering.

EngE Collaborators: Drs. Bevlee Watford, David Knight, & Walter Lee

Amount Awarded: $5 Million

Dates: 06/2017 - 05/2022

Researchers at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University propose to conduct exploratory research through the EHR Core Research (ECR) program to further develop and validate a survey instrument that can be used by college administrators and student-support practitioners to assess the magnitude of institutional support received by undergraduate students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). An instrument to do this work does not currently exist. Such an instrument is important because it will facilitate college administrators monitoring progress in this area. It will also lead to the identification of opportunities with regard to making local STEM learning environments more supportive from the perspectives of undergraduate students in general. The research team will survey students at three institutions to assess their local environments, provide data-driven evidence for interventions tailored to the unmet needs of the target population, and monitor progress relative to effectively supporting students.

Student-retention theories traditionally focus on institutional retention, even though efforts to support STEM students occur at the college level. The proposed study will bridge this gap between research and practice by extending and empirically testing the Model of Co-curricular Support (MCCS), which specifically focuses on supporting and retaining underrepresented groups in STEM. The project will extend a prior student-retention theory to provide evidence that STEM researchers, educators, administrators, and policy makers need for informed decisions to improve STEM learning environments and design effective programs, activities, and services. The project will enable institutions to gauge the effectiveness of their institutional support for undergraduate STEM students, including those from under-served populations. The ECR program emphasizes fundamental STEM education research that generates foundational knowledge in the field. Investments are made in critical areas that are essential, extensive, and enduring: STEM learning and STEM learning environments, broadening participation in STEM, and STEM workforce development.

EngE Collaborators:  Drs. Walter Lee & David Knight

Amount Awarded:  $257,372

Dates:  05/2017 - 04/2019


Currently available statistics suggest that between 11 and 15% of U.S. college students identify as individuals with disabilities, yet little work addresses identity development within this population broadly, and even less explores their experiences within engineering. Calls from both disabilities studies and national organizations such as the American Institute for Research consistently ask educators to broaden participation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math fields to include individuals with disabilities. Therefore, this work targets an urgent need in engineering education research. The study lays a foundation for broadening participation in engineering by enabling us to better understand the supports and barriers students with disabilities experience. Educators will be able to use the findings to develop inclusive educational experiences that promote identity formation, diversity, and universal design. At the same time, because the students will are followed into the workplace, the findings can benefit engineering employers as they hire engineers with disabilities, again focusing on systems and structures that support inclusion and accessibility. Moreover, the project will build bridges between the engineering education and disabilities studies community by establishing partnerships and bolstering ongoing conversations within engineering that help to move disability from the margins to the center.


The project addresses the call for studies on the "development of identity as an engineer and its intersection with other identities" by conducting a longitudinal study of students with disabilities in civil engineering. The project will use constructivist grounded theory to study two cohorts over three years. The first cohort follows 20 students from the fall of their first year through the spring of their junior year, with interviews twice a year (early fall and late spring). The second cohort, run concurrently, follows 20 students from spring of their junior year through their first year in the workplace, again with interviews twice a year. This approach spans the full undergraduate experience as well as the transition to work, and provides a rich data set from which to develop a theory of identity formation for this population.

Consistent with grounded theory, the project does not impose an existing theory on the data; however, the understanding of identity broadly draws on social identity theory (SIT), which treats identities in terms of group membership developed through comparisons of values and behaviors members make with one another and with individuals belonging to other groups. This approach is consistent with existing studies of individuals with disabilities in college as well as with studies of professional identities, and allows the project team to situate the work within the broader landscape of identity research in engineering. The project addresses a significant gap in research on the professional formation of engineers by extending an emergent theoretical model of identity development in civil engineering to students with disabilities as they advance through their degree program and into the workforce. It provides significant contributions to research on identity development in engineering broadly, research on diversity and inclusion in engineering, and research on disability studies in higher education - issues that, to date, have seen little integration. The longitudinal approach advances our understanding of undergraduate development by capturing both how and why individuals with disabilities merge and negotiate personal and professional identities through these changes over time. The model developed in this study can then be used by researchers in other engineering fields and, potentially, beyond engineering to facilitate a more robust and nuanced understanding of how students with disabilities develop identities in college.

EngE Collaborators:  Drs. Lisa McNair & Marie Paretti

Amount Awarded: $349,000

Dates: 09/2017 - 05/2020


Thermodynamics is a subject that often features engineering problems that are not well-defined and abstract concepts that are often hard for students to understand. In addition, the scale at which thermodynamic phenomena occur makes it difficult, if not impossible, for students to interact with authentic physical objects that exhibit such phenomena. To address these challenges, this project will use virtual objects (vObjects) to enhance learning by closely mapping the learner experience to real-life engineering scenarios. This study will be one of the first to systematically evaluate characteristics and features of a virtual learning environment designed to support the "messiness" of real world problem solving.

This project will employ technological advancements for manipulation of vObjects to help students apply foundational knowledge to the solution of ill-defined problems and to address the improvement of virtual learning for future engineering curricula. A comprehensive understanding of the utility of vObjects in engineering will contribute to the development of online learning environments, including augmented reality environments. Virtual learning of engineering skills can also be used as a tool for broadening participation in STEM by providing the opportunity for greater access by diverse students. In broad terms, this research will contribute to improving and transforming undergraduate engineering education by enhancing student learning of theoretical and abstract engineering concepts.

EngE Collaborators: Dr. Diana Bairaktarova

Amount Awarded: $200,000

Dates: 08/2017 - 07/2019


Maker spaces have been widely touted as a potentially liberative moment for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, presenting an opportunity to bring traditionally underrepresented groups into STEM fields by engaging them in spaces that are open, creative, and supportive of people from all backgrounds. At the same time, early reports indicate that many maker and hacker spaces are already enacting certain norms that are more conducive to participation of white, male, middle-class, able-bodied hobbyists. Despite this trend, there are spaces that explicitly stand out in their inclusion of homeless makers, women, people of color, and people with different kinds of abilities. This project examines how diverse makerspaces welcome groups traditionally underrepresented in STEM, and how these practices can inform the design and operation of campus and community maker or hacker spaces that presently struggle to achieve diversity.

Ethnographic methods and Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) are used to understand these spaces in terms of their physical and linguistic artifacts. This Participatory Action Research (PAR) includes ethnographies at 6 to 8 inclusive maker and hacker spaces, an Open Space Technology (OST) workshop focused on identifying and analyzing core attributes of transferable inclusive practices, and CDA that reflexively summarizes and propagates this information in applicable ways to academic and community sites. Research questions include: (1) What practices and artifacts do participants in diverse maker and hacker spaces employ to establish and maintain environments that are diverse and inclusive? (2) What does the discourse in diverse maker and hacker spaces reveal about how meaning and value are co-constructed around identity, creativity, and the culture of production / the production of culture in engineering? (3) What best practices emerge from diverse maker and hacker spaces, and how can these translate to design or transformation of existing maker spaces on campuses and in communities? Intellectual Merit: This work is early in its use of CDA, the Highlander strain of PAR, and OST, all novel in engineering education; and early in seeking to characterize features contributing to the liberatory nature of emergent diverse maker spaces. The work is interdisciplinary and potentially transformative in leveraging linguistic analysis and social theories to ferret out root causes of exclusionary STEM practices for the potential high payoff of building campus and community maker spaces (and other STEM spaces) that are inclusive. Broader Impacts: This project co-constructs ways to stimulate innovative design thinking in experiential curricula; increases retention and broadens participation in STEM by embedding inclusive practices; empowers citizen engineers through local and national networks of makers, students, and faculty; and enables new ways of STEM learning and design thinking that will enrich the U.S. innovation ecosystem through progressive learning environments for undergraduate engineers. Findings are propagated non-traditionally via maker virtual communities, maker faires, and informal networks, in addition to traditional propagation through the STEM education literature and the network of 150 engineering deans and other academic leaders committed to making on campus.

EngE Collaborators:  Dr. Lisa McNair

Amount Awarded:  $296,033

Dates:  08/2016 - 06/2018


Extant research pinpoints gaps between school and work in respect to engineering practice. For example, a recent American Society of Mechanical Engineering (ASME) study identified a number of student weaknesses, such as: practical experience, project management, problem solving, and design. Equally important, industry supervisors have also identified these gaps. The misalignment between the engineering classroom and workplace poses serious challenges with the professional formation of engineers. Generally speaking, capstone courses are key academic experiences that can bridge these gaps. Few studies, if any, have examined the effectiveness of capstone courses in helping students make the transition from engineering classrooms to the workplace. Instead, most research focuses on course structure, pedagogy, assessment, and end-of-course outcomes. To address the knowledge gaps, the investigators draw on Wenger's concept of communities of practice to study students' experiences as they move from capstone courses to the workplace.

Using a multi-case study design, the project is focusing on four primary research questions:

(a) What skills, practices, and attitudes fostered through the capstone experience do individuals draw on or apply in their early work experiences?

(b) What differences do individuals identify between their capstone design and early work experiences, and how do those differences help or hinder their school-to-work transition?

(c) What specific pedagogical practices or aspects of the capstone course do students identify as helping or hindering their transition?

(d) In what ways do individuals perceive themselves to be underprepared in their early work experiences?

Further, with a particular focus on women and Hispanics, the investigators proposed to study the extent that capstone design courses prepared these students to enter communities of practice in engineering workplaces. This project is closely aligned with the National Science Foundation's strategic priorities to build the STEM workforce with capable individuals, as well as broadening participation in engineering among underrepresented groups.

In the scientific literature, there are numerous studies that highlight the gaps between theory and practice in relation to engineering education and the workplace, yet capstone courses are common practices that engineering instructors use to help students gain more in-depth engineering knowledge. There is a dearth of studies that have examined the effectiveness of capstone courses and how these courses may help students to translate and apply prior engineering coursework to the engineering workplace. With this in mind, this project has immense potential to positively impact engineering instruction across the nation. It also possesses great potential in helping engineering faculty to develop more effective capstone courses, while maximizing their instructional resources to create such courses. Ultimately, this project will benefit U.S. engineering industries seeking to hire adaptable engineering graduates who are technically and professionally prepared to enter the engineering workforce.

EngE Collaborator:  Dr. Marie Paretti

Amount Awarded: $200,181

Dates:  09/2016 - 08/2019

A diverse and highly skilled engineering workforce plays a critical role in maintaining economic competitiveness and protecting national security. To achieve these aims, engineering programs in higher education must guarantee that curricula are both rigorous and equitable. As demand for engineering majors increases, so too do section sizes for foundational engineering courses. There is growing evidence that such courses represent significant barriers to student success and that the penalties associated with large classes can disproportionately affect women and underrepresented groups. Further, these educational environments make it challenging to implement evidence-based teaching practices known to be better for student learning. This project will build a learning organization ecosystem -- a grassroots effort involving engagement between faculty and departmental and institutional support structures to collaboratively identify problems and continuously, systematically improve the quality and equitability of the engineering curricula. During this project, sixteen instructors responsible for teaching approximately 4800 undergraduate engineering students in large foundational courses will be impacted. Beyond the instructors and the students directly impacted, research findings and project outcomes will be shared broadly so that other faculty and administrators might similarly improve their educational enterprise.


This project responds to national calls for undergraduate engineering to become more data-driven by exploring how existing, diverse data sources can be leveraged to enhance educational environments. Early efforts will focus on creating intelligent feedback loops, robust streams of existing institutional data (e.g., historical transcript data, student evaluations), existing instructor-level data (e.g., past exams), and newly collected data (e.g., surveys about how students spend time pre/post high-stakes tests). Such data sources will be triangulated and analyzed in a way that can be used by the instructors and the research team. Summer workshops will also be conducted to engage faculty and administrators in a participatory design process: (1) to build individual instructor action plans and (2) to construct an institutional change action plan collectively. Research efforts center at the intersection of learning analytics and faculty change to inform how others might productively leverage institutional data to improve the STEM undergraduate education system. The research team consists of educational researchers, engineering faculty, and administrative leaders from the college of engineering, institutional effectiveness, and learning sciences. Thus, the team is well-poised to not only lead this effort programmatically and from a research perspective, but also institutionalize project-developed strategies and outcomes

EngE Collaborators:  Drs. Jake Grohs & David Knight

Amount Awarded:  $298,599

Dates:  07/2017 - 12/2019

To "Provide Access to Clean Water" is one of the 14 Grand Challenges identified by the National Academy of Engineering. A recent United Nations report projects that virtually every nation will face a water supply problem within the next 20 years. A key component to any solution to address water-related challenges is to educate our youth about the interdisciplinary aspects of water research to make them aware of water-related issues; and to train them as future professionals who will develop appropriate solutions to meet these challenges. This Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) in Engineering and Computer Science Site, entitled Water ECubeG (Engineering, Ecology, Environment, Geosciences) at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (VT) is targeted at developing a model 6-week professional development program to engage grades 9-12 STEM teachers and community college faculty in Southwest Virginia in interdisciplinary water research. Successful implementation of this RET Site will result in the development of innovative learning modules that will motivate students in grades 9-12 and community colleges to pursue the breadth of water related STEM careers. The proposed region for teacher recruitment will enable many teachers to educate a diverse group of students throughout Southwest Virginia serving high-need rural and urban student populations. The Site's focus on interdisciplinary water research will enable early exposure of future scientists and engineers to critical issues for solving complex water problems such as pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. The goal of this Site is consistent with the priorities identified by the Virginia Governor's office and upon successful completion this Site will serve as an excellent model for teacher and student training in interdisciplinary water research elsewhere.

EngE Collaborator:  Dr. Vinod Lohani

Amount Awarded:  $600,000

Dates:  06/2016 - 05/2019

To "Provide Access to Clean Water" is one of the 14 Grand Challenges identified by the National Academy of Engineering. A recent United Nations report projects that virtually every nation will face a water supply problem within the next 20 years. A key component to any solution to address water-related challenges is to educate our youth about the interdisciplinary aspects of water research to make them aware of water-related issues; and to train them as future professionals who will develop appropriate solutions to meet these challenges. This Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) in Engineering and Computer Science Site, entitled Water ECubeG (Engineering, Ecology, Environment, Geosciences) at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (VT) is targeted at developing a model 6-week professional development program to engage grades 9-12 STEM teachers and community college faculty in Southwest Virginia in interdisciplinary water research. Successful implementation of this RET Site will result in the development of innovative learning modules that will motivate students in grades 9-12 and community colleges to pursue the breadth of water related STEM careers. The proposed region for teacher recruitment will enable many teachers to educate a diverse group of students throughout Southwest Virginia serving high-need rural and urban student populations. The Site's focus on interdisciplinary water research will enable early exposure of future scientists and engineers to critical issues for solving complex water problems such as pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. The goal of this Site is consistent with the priorities identified by the Virginia Governor's office and upon successful completion this Site will serve as an excellent model for teacher and student training in interdisciplinary water research elsewhere.

EngE Collaborators:  Drs. David Knight & Vinod Lohani

Amount Awarded:  $250,000

Dates:  06/2016 - 05/2019

Bats are capable of swift, autonomous navigation through complex, natural environments - a feat that cannot be replicated by engineers at present. The central hypothesis behind this research is that system-level synergies between sensing, mobility, and control functions are critical factors behind achieving these unmatched capabilities of bats. To understand how these system-level synergies arise in nature, participating students will be advised by faculty teams spanning six departments to conduct interdisciplinary research projects centered on one of the following topics: acoustical scene statistics of natural bat habitats, dynamic biosonar sensing, maneuvering flight, neural control, physiological basis of sound emission and reception. All student projects will be based in the Shandong University - Virginia Tech International Laboratory in China.

The educational outcomes of the project will be undergraduate and graduate students with interdisciplinary skills between biology and engineering that will allow them to interpret biological functions from an engineering perspective and within their respective biological contexts. Furthermore, the IRES trainees will acquire intercultural competencies to work effectively in international teams. The project's scientific outcomes will enable engineers to design better integrated autonomous systems, e.g., self-navigating drones, that will have bat-like capabilities to deal with natural, unconstrained environments, such dense vegetation.

EngE Collaborator:  Dr. Vinod Lohani

Amount Awarded:  $250,000

Dates:  02/2017 - 01/2020

This three year renewal of a Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Site Program, Interdisciplinary Water Science and Engineering, at Virginia Tech, offers an interdisciplinary research experience to a diverse cohort of students on projects leading to sustainable management of water resources in an interdisciplinary environment. New features of this renewal program include an international component in India and collaboration of some of the REU scholars with VT RET Site participants. The Site will expand the pool of future researchers in water science who will address one of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) Grand Challenges, (i.e. provide access to clean water).

VT will host 10 REU scholars over a 10-week summer program where they will be provided with a high-quality learning environment that: 1) stimulates their scientific curiosity in interdisciplinary water research and motivates them to pursue advanced degrees in water sciences and engineering; 2) trains them to communicate scientific information through research papers, seminars, and presentations; and 3) facilitates their social, intellectual, and professional growth. Twelve faculty mentors from diverse academic disciplines will direct REU scholars research.

EngE Collaborator:  Dr. Vinod Lohani

Amount Awarded:  $439,436

Dates:  03/2017 - 02/2020

Every human being can be impacted by a disaster, especially in coastal areas. At present, six out of ten people live near the coast and are susceptible to hurricanes, tsunamis, and other hazards. Coastal and other hazards also threaten economic and geopolitical stability, and national security. Hurricanes Sandy (2012) and Katrina (2005) and the Tohoku tsunami (2011) and Typhoon Haiyan (2013) are reminders of the immense long-term impacts such hazards pose. Despite the accelerating risk of such events, resource allocations and coping strategies are often complicated and by varying stakeholder interests. This National Science Foundation Research Traineeship (NRT) award to Virginia Tech will synthesize expertise in science, engineering, planning, and business to address the critical issue of growing disaster losses attributed to both natural and man made hazards. The program will train a new community of multi-disciplinary researchers, practitioners, and leaders at the master's and doctoral levels. Over five years, the project will support 26 trainees on NSF stipends, and an estimated 150 additional students will participate in at least one element of the program. Each trainee will pursue a degree through existing academic entities at Virginia Tech or through the university's new Individualized Interdisciplinary PhD program.

The project will develop new transdisciplinary approaches critical for advancing knowledge and understanding of disaster-resilience and risk management across different STEM and non-STEM disciplines. The involved faculty are not only experts in their own disciplines, but also have a shared history of transdisciplinary disaster-resilience and risk management research and education. Trainees will work with faculty and each other to develop innovative, comprehensive, inclusive, and sustainable methods and practices that seek to mitigate disasters emanating from natural and manmade hazards. Trainees will also learn about and lead stakeholder engagement exercises that explore how people and institutions respond to disasters and risk. Integration of student research with stakeholder interaction and engagement provides a novel and potentially transformative educational component that could be replicated in other transdisciplinary graduate programs. Intentional training in the societal context in which disasters unfold has the potential to deepen communications among disaster-resilience and risk management professionals and researchers and the communities they serve. Educational innovations include i) integrating research and education through a unique approach to stakeholder engagement, ii) emphasizing intentional development of transdisciplinary thinking, and iii) integrating faculty and graduate students into a community of practice that fosters diversity and inclusion. The result will be diverse, globally competitive scholars who understand the fundamental aspects of disaster resilience and its broader implications outside traditional STEM fields.

EngE Collaborator: Dr. Marie Paretti

Amount Awarded: $3 Million

Dates:  09/2017 - 08/2022


In this SaTC-EDU project at Virginia Tech, faculty members and graduate students in the Engineering Education, Computer Science (CS), Electrical & Computer Engineering (ECE) and the Hume Center for National Security and Technology in College of Engineering are collaborating to develop and implement a unique curriculum delivery model in cybersecurity into the CS and ECE curricula using Jerome Bruner's spiral theory approach. A theme of software security for cyber applications is chosen to develop and implement cybersecurity learning activities across several required courses in CS and computer engineering curricula impacting more than 300 students each year. Investigators are also conducting cybersecurity learning research using a mixed methods research design.

EngE Collaborator: Dr. Vinod Lohani

Amount Awarded:  $299,948

Dates:  09/2016 - 08/2018

Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University will conduct a mixed methods research project to better understand how various mechanisms of funding - fellowships, research assistantships, teaching assistantships, etc. - influence students' pursuit of doctorates in STEM and subsequent employment. The project will produce empirical evidence and a conceptual framework to inform the improvement of graduate student funding policies and interventions by addressing the differences in the types of funding that are offered to diverse student populations. The researchers will investigate the qualitative questions using national data from the Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED) and then use that data to inform questions for further investigation within the study sites for data collection via interviews with graduate students, administrators and faculty members across eight STEM disciplines and seven NSF-funded centers at eight institutions.


The researchers will use socialization theory to guide the research. Hypothesizing that funding mechanisms are important drivers of socialization, the researchers will investigate the following research questions:(1) How do graduate students? funding mechanisms vary across their incoming characteristics (i.e. demographics and bachelor's or master's institutional type, location, or affiliation) and STEM discipline? (2) What is the relationship between graduate students' funding mechanisms and their post-doctoral outcomes? (3) How does the relationship between graduate students' funding mechanisms and their post-doctoral outcomes vary across their incoming characteristic and STEM discipline? (4) What do STEM graduate students, faculty members, and administrators perceive to be the benefits and drawbacks of various graduate student funding mechanisms? How does each group make decisions about offering or accepting offers of different funding mechanisms?(5) How does funding mechanism impact STEM graduate students? experiences, socialization, identity formation, and other factors previously shown to contribute to overall success? The analysis will provide insight about the difference socialization opportunities may have for certain groups of students but not others. In addition, the research results will inform interventions for broadening participation in STEM.

The project is supported by the ECR program that emphasizes fundamental STEM education research that generates foundational knowledge in the field. Investments are made in critical areas that are essential, broad and enduring: STEM learning and STEM learning environments, broadening participation in STEM, and STEM workforce development. ECR supports the accumulation of robust evidence to inform efforts to understand, build theory to explain, and suggest intervention and innovations to address persistent challenges in STEM interest, education, learning and participation.

EngE Collaborator:  Dr. David Knight

Amount Awarded: $749,211

Dates:  10/2015 - 09/2020

Faculty are at the center of many potential solutions to national and global calls for transformative improvements in STEM education. The last 20 years have seen significant advancement in understanding of how to create effective learning environments for STEM education. While many individual faculty have adopted new approaches to teaching, change has not been deep or widespread enough to make a major impact across all of STEM education. Better understanding is needed of how faculty can become change agents in order to effect this change. This study focuses on exploring the experiences of early career engineering education faculty as they attempt to impact the engineering education experiences of students locally and more broadly. Engineering education faculty are unique in that they have formal training in the types of change desired, and are often embedded in disciplinary engineering departments where they can apply their knowledge to create change. Understanding their experiences and the academic cultures in which they are working will provide information on how they can and cannot influence education practices in their departments. Doing so will enhance our efforts to train and develop faculty prepared to drive change in engineering education.

In the first phase of a two-phase study, collaborative inquiry and collaborative autoethnography methods will be used to systematically examine the PIs' own experiences as six early career faculty members in diverse settings: this will include scrutinizing acceptance of ambiguity, responses to disappointments and challenges, willingness to adapt, and ability to collaborate. Subsequently, in the second phase, the experiences of 12-15 additional early career faculty members will be examined to refine and expand on the phase one results, increasing their applicability to multiple settings. The results of this project will (1) advance the engineering education community's understanding of existing structures for facilitating change (or the lack thereof) in engineering education (2) identify barriers and supports for making change as early career engineering education faculty; and (3) develop a co-constructed understanding of how to better prepare and support faculty to exercise agency as it relates to impacting engineering education during their first few years in academic positions. These advancements are critical because the calls for change in engineering education will continue as technological advances are made and the role of engineers in society continues to evolve. By identifying the barriers and supports that affect early career faculty's abilities to take strategic and intentional actions towards achieving impact, the results of this study will enable engineering education graduate programs and national engineering education organizations to make programmatic changes to benefit future faculty. In addition, the evidence-based insights resulting from this study have the potential to expedite the on-boarding process of new engineering education faculty, promote improvements in STEM education nationally by faculty at all stages of their careers, and support the development of the field of engineering education research.

EngE Collaborator:  Dr. Walter Lee

Amount Awarded:  $64,170

Dates:  08/2016 - 06/2018