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Critical Frontiers Research Group

The Critical Frontiers Research Group is comprised by a group of students who are engaged with Dr. Jenni Case on their research journeys.  Some are advised by her, some have her on their committee, some are working with her as graduate assistants, and others just choose to connect in the weekly Research Group meetings.

We chose the title ‘Critical Frontiers’ to represent their research interests as each of them is seeking in some way to push the boundaries in engineering education or higher education research.  Many of us are interested in comparative educational questions; most of us are interested in culture and its relation to engineering education.  We are open to critical approaches and we are interested in the sociology of education.

Each week during the semester we meet for an hour for an interactive session.  The program comprises a range of different activities.  In some sessions Dr. Case shares expertise around aspects of the research process including writing, conference presentations, and journal publications.  In some sessions we invite other faculty or graduate students in the Department to present on selected aspects of their work.  In some sessions we do discussion on focused topics.  We also schedule time to give each other feedback on our work.  And of course we make sure we have at least one good social event per semester!

For further information on the Group and its schedule, contact Ramon Benitez (

Jenni Case

Jenni Case is Head and Professor in the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. Her research on the student experience of learning, focusing mainly on science and engineering education, has been widely published. She is a coordinating editor for the International Journal of Higher Education, a co-editor for the Routledge/SRHE series Research into Higher Education, subject editor for the IChemE journal Education for Chemical Engineers, and associate editor for the European Journal of Engineering Education.

She spent 21 years in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Cape Town (UCT), teaching in its undergraduate program, as well as leadning in program administration and curriculum reform. In 2011, she was a Mandela Mellon fellow at Harvard University. She was founding president (2010-2013) of the South African Society for Engineering Education (SASEE). She attained full professor status at UCT in 2012. She took up her current role at Virginia Tech in 2017 and teached in both the undergraduate and graduate programs. She is an honorary professor at the University of Cape Town.

Students currently advised by Dr. Jenni Case:

Research Group Members:


Ph.D. Candidate, Florida International University

Natali Huggins

Ph.D. Student, Higher Education

Johnny Woods

Ph.D. Candidate, Higher Education

Previous PhD students graduated under Dr. Case's supervision at the University of Cape Town:

Brandon Reed, PhD (primary supervisor, with co-supervisor C Linder), 2007

Title: Pupils’ experiences of technology.  Exploring dimensions of technological literacy

Jeff Jawitz, PhD (co-supervisor with S Shay), 2007

Title: Learning to judge: the socialisation of new academic staff into assessment practice within departments at a South African university

Linda Kotta, PhD (primary supervisor, with co-supervisor K Luckett), 2011

Title: Structural conditioning and mediation by student agency: A case study of success in chemical engineering design

Bruce Kloot, PhD (primary supervisor, with co-supervisor D Marshall), 2011

Title: A Bourdieuian analysis of foundation programmes within the field of engineering education: two South African case studies

Jonathan Marks, PhD (co-supervisor, with primary supervisor B Collier-Reed), 2012

Title: Entrepreneurship: Taught or Learned?  An exploration into the role of experience in teaching and learning entrepreneurship

Leonard Smith, PhD (primary supervisor, with co-supervisors D Fraser, C van Walbeek), 2012

Title: The effect of selected academic development programmes on the academic performance of students at a South African university: An empirical analysis

Disaapele Setlogelo, PhD (primary supervisor, with co-supervisor K Williams), 2015

Title: The interplay between structure and agency: the persistence of non-traditional students in their undergraduate engineering studies

Honjiswa Conana, PhD (co-supervisor, with primary supervisor D Marshall, UWC), 2016

Title: Using semantic profiling to characterize pedagogical practices and student learning: A case study in two introductory physics courses

Renee Smit, PhD (primary supervisor, with co-supervisor Jo Muller), 2017

Title: The nature of engineering and science knowledge in curriculum: a case study in thermodynamics

Nicky Wolmarans, PhD (co-supervisor, with primary supervisor K Luckett), 2017

Title: The nature of professional reasoning: An analysis of design in the engineering curriculum