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Damascus, AK to Pyongyang, NK: Developing an Entrepreneurial Mindset by Connecting Nuclear Weapons Safety, Chemical Process Safety and Global Politics

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Diversity and Global Experiences

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering

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Paper Authors


David DiBiasio Worcester Polytechnic Institute

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David DiBiasio is Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering and Department Head of ChE at WPI. He received his ChE degrees from Purdue University, worked for the DuPont Co, and has been at WPI since 1980. His current interests are in educational research: the process of student learning, international engineering education, and educational assessment. Collaboration with two colleagues resulted in being awarded the 2001 William Corcoran Award from Chemical Engineering Education. He served as 2004 chair of the ASEE ChE Division, has served as an ABET program evaluator and on the AIChE/ABET Education & Accreditation Committee. He has also served as Assessment Coordinator in WPI’s Interdisciplinary and Global Studies Division and as Director of WPI’s Washington DC Project Center. He was secretary/treasurer of the new Education Division of AIChE. In 2009 he was awarded the rank of Fellow in the ASEE, and in 2013 was awarded the rank of Fellow in AIChE.

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Kristin Boudreau Worcester Polytechnic Institute

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Kristin Boudreau is Paris Fletcher Distinguished Professor of Humanities at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where she also serves as Head of the Department of Humanities and Arts. Her training is in nineteenth-century literature, but for the past 9 years she has taught engineering ethics, first-year engineering courses, and humanities for engineers. She has also worked with students and colleagues to develop role-playing games teaching engineering within its complex humanistic context.

NOTE: this paper has co-authors.

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Leslie Dodson Worcester Polytechnic Institute

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Leslie Dodson is a Faculty Teaching Fellow in Undergraduate Studies at WPI. She received her PhD from the University of Colorado-Boulder's College of Engineering and Applied Science, ATLAS Institute. Her current research interests focus on the intersections of international development, human-centered design and participatory community development. Specifically, Leslie leads research efforts on the world's largest fog water harvesting system in rural, Berber communities in southwest Morocco. She also has expertise in alternative pedagogical methods such as immersive, embodied and engaged learning. Leslie is a Visiting Scholar at the University of Colorado-Boulder Center for Science and Technology Policy Research. Prior to her work in academia, she was an international correspondent and producer for CNBC, MSNBC, CNN, NHK-Tokyo and Reuters Financial Television covering the global financial markets, environmental issues and international relations.

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Curtis Abel Worcester Polytechnic Institute Orcid 16x16

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Developing entrepreneurial mindset learning (EML) in engineering education challenges instructors to implement learning activities that promote student learning in three key areas: creative and critical thinking (curiosity), minimizing segmented learning (making connections among apparently unrelated concepts), and including human/social considerations in engineering analysis (value creation). In this paper we describe a unique project that was implemented in the first course in chemical engineering (material and energy balances) that used the 1980 Titan missile accident in Damascus, AK as a focal point. Our EML module included basic mass balance analysis put in an historical context but extended to include a qualitative chemical process accident case study, and to analysis of present day tensions between the US and North Korea.

The module was a team-based project imbedded in the traditional sophomore year introductory ChE course. We implemented the module in a class of 94 students in the first fall quarter of the 2017-18 academic year. The basis of the project was the PBS American Experience documentary Command and Control: The Unknown Story of the Day Our Luck Almost Ran Out (R. Kenner, Director and from the book by E. Schlosser). The film recreates and describes the explosion that occurred in a Titan missile silo. It started with the simple dropping of a ratchet causing a fuel leak that spiraled into a major event resulting in 21 injuries and 1 fatality. The nuclear warhead did not detonate, but the event was not an isolated one and served as an example for nuclear weapons safety problems in the US.

The connections between a missile accident and basic ChE topics might at first appear weak. However, there are three areas appropriate for new ChE students. These include using the fuel leak to introduce non-steady state mass balance concepts, examining parallels with recent chemical process accidents, and introducing risk-consequence models to promote informed discussion about current political NK-US debates. In the paper we describe the project details including the mass balance analysis, the process safety case studies (each team chose their own comparison incident), and the risk model discussions. We’ll also demonstrate the EML elements using student work samples.

Since the course just finished in mid-October, evaluation is still in-progress. Review of the 25 team reports showed them to all be very good to excellent. This was a surprise to the ChE instructor who has been doing course projects for many years in this and similar classes. An open-ended survey (non-Likert format) was also implemented with an 86% response. Survey analysis is in progress and we will have full results by the paper submission deadline. Preliminary results indicate that student interest in this different topic and context was high. Nearly all teams recognized and thoroughly discussed the parallels between the missile accident and their chemical process case study. They also wrote intelligent pieces about the NK-US issue but in some cases the connection of that issue to the ChE-specific material was seen as tenuous.

DiBiasio, D., & Boudreau, K., & Dodson, L., & Abel, C. (2018, June), Damascus, AK to Pyongyang, NK: Developing an Entrepreneurial Mindset by Connecting Nuclear Weapons Safety, Chemical Process Safety and Global Politics Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah.

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2018 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015