Carolyn SeepersadDepartment of Mechanical Engineering
Freshman Introduction to Research in Engineering (FIRE) provides opportunities for first-semester freshmen to participate in authentic research projects led by a faculty advisor. The goal is to encourage students to participate in research throughout their undergraduate careers, starting with their very first semester on campus. The FIRE course was offered for the third time in Fall 2016.
Thirty-eight students were enrolled and worked on 11 faculty-led projects. Current students are surveyed and the progress of former FIRE students is tracked to document the impact of the course on the students. A conference paper is being prepared to document and disseminate the results of this initiative.
There is significant interest (among students and the department) to expand FIRE to a multi-semester program, and another engineering department is attempting to replicate the program already. A document that describes the structure of the course for anyone wishing to replicate it is available.
I am working with Dr. Sheldon Landsberger to build a freshman research program in Mechanical Engineering (ME) that integrates more undergraduate ME students into meaningful research experiences. In Fall 2014, we launched a pilot freshman research program with 19 students. This fall, we are working to offer this opportunity to more ME students and refine the pedagogy associated with the course.
The course matches small groups with faculty-sponsored research projects. The freshmen will also be brought together biweekly for group discussions of academic research. I believe that this approach will simultaneously improve our recruiting and retention efforts in engineering. In the future, we plan to expand the program into other engineering departments.
What are you passionate about?
I teach courses on engineering design and additive manufacturing (3D printing). I am very passionate about incorporating open-ended design projects and additive manufacturing into the engineering classrooms. My research group designed and built the Innovation Station, a 3D printing vending machine for UT Austin students. I also helped initiate a college-wide course on spatial-visualization to improve the spatial-visualization skills of incoming freshmen. Proficiency in spatial-visualization tasks has been correlated with higher undergraduate GPAs and retention rates.
What is a teaching strategy that you've learned from another Fellow?
Critical thinking is a topic that cuts across many of the PTF initiatives, and it’s something that I’m always trying to encourage my students to do. It can be very tricky to implement well.