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15 Years Of Engineering Education Reform: Lessons Learned And Future Challenges

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Curricula of the Past, Present, and Future

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.3.1 - 11.3.11



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Paper Authors


Thomas Litzinger Pennsylvania State University

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Thomas A. Litzinger is currently Director of the Leonhard Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Education and a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Penn State, where he has been on the faculty since 1985. His work in engineering education involves curricular reform, teaching and learning innovations, faculty development, and assessment. He teaches and conducts research in the areas of combustion and thermal sciences. He can be contacted at

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Robert Pangborn Pennsylvania State University

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Rob Pangborn is Professor of Engineering Mechanics and until February 2006 served as the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies in the College of Engineering at Penn State. He is currently Vice President and Dean for Undergraduate Education at Penn State. He has led a number of interdisciplinary initiatives focused on curricular change and integration. He teaches and conducts research in engineering mechanics and materials. He can be reached at

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David Wormley Pennsylvania State University

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Dave Wormley is President-elect of ASEE and Dean of the College of Engineering at Penn State, a position he has held since 1992. Prior to his appointment at Penn State, he served as Associate Dean of Engineering and Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is involved in many national efforts on engineering education and research including serving as chair of the Advisory Board for the Engineering Directorate of NSF and of the Advisory Board for the NSF Science of Learning Center focused on engineering education at the University of Washington.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

15 Years of Engineering Education Reform: Lessons Learned and Future Challenges


Since the founding of the ECSEL and Synthesis coalitions in the early 1990’s, the National Science Foundation, ARPA, and other government agencies as well as private foundations have made substantial investments to improve engineering curricula, teaching and learning practices, and the ‘pipeline’ from K-12 into engineering. In 2001, Bjorklund and Colbeck1 reported the results of their interviews with 27 leaders of engineering colleges and professional organizations in which they discussed change that had taken place over ten years since the founding of the first coalitions. The participants were asked what they believed were the two most significant changes over that decade. Greater exposure to design and emphasis on effective teaching were mentioned by ten of the 27 participants, followed closely by implementation of computer technology in research and teaching, which was mentioned by nine participants. Next in line were accreditation/assessment and funding, mentioned by seven of 27.

Experience at Penn State in reforming our engineering undergraduate programs has largely mirrored these responses. Indeed the ECSEL coalition, made possible by NSF support, was built around the theme of “integration of design across the curriculum.” ECSEL had a very significant impact on our College-wide efforts to enhance teaching and learning, steering us in a direction and path of work that continue today. We have introduced a variety of new, more effective teaching and learning strategies on our campuses including active and collaborative learning along with technology-based teaching and learning. Clearly, implementing new processes of assessment of outcomes for ABET is having a significant effect on our programs. We have been fortunate to have other influences, as well, including good counsel from external advisory boards and the resources from an endowed center for engineering education, both of which have been effective in fostering change.

Over the last 15 years, these diverse drivers for change have nurtured nearly 50 major projects for which substantial funding was available. These 50 initiatives, however, do not begin to represent the totality of the effort because many individual faculty and small groups of faculty carried out projects to improve what they are doing in their own classes without the benefit of additional funding. Over this time, a number of different approaches to leading the change process have been applied. In reflecting on our experiences, it is apparent that we employed different approaches to facilitate change depending on the circumstances, in a sense applying situational leadership, and also that our change model has evolved much along the lines described by Clark et al.,2 shifting to a model that always has the question of how we will sustain an innovation built in from the outset.

To write this paper, we have selected projects from which we drew significant lessons about the process of implementing and sustaining change. For each, we briefly summarize the approach

Litzinger, T., & Pangborn, R., & Wormley, D. (2006, June), 15 Years Of Engineering Education Reform: Lessons Learned And Future Challenges Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--212

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