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Exploring T-Shaped Professional Skill Development in Graduate Students in an Advanced Energy Systems Course

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Assessment, Course, and Curricular Development

Tagged Division

Energy Conversion and Conservation

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Paper Authors


Ryan L. Falkenstein-Smith Syracuse University

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Ryan is a Ph.D. candidate at Syracuse University whose research interest range from carbon sequestration to engineering education.

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Ryan James Milcarek Syracuse University

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Ryan Milcarek is a Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering PhD student at Syracuse University with a focus in Energy Systems Engineering. He worked for the Department of Energy’s Industrial Assessment Center at Syracuse University for 2 years starting in the Spring of 2012. Ryan currently works as a Research Assistant in the Combustion and Energy Research Laboratory (COMER). His current research is focused on new catalyst development, ceramic materials for solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs), combustion, energy conversion, fuel cell modeling, fuel cell technology applications and system design. Ryan is a Syracuse University Graduate Fellow and an Astronaut Scholar.

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Michael J. Garrett Syracuse University

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Michael Garrett is an incoming graduate student at Syracuse University. Throughout his undergraduate career he developed an interest in energy systems which encouraged him to pursue energy related research. During the summer of 2015, Michael began working as an Undergraduate Research Assistant in the Combustion and Energy Research Laboratory (COMER) where he worked with tubular solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs). His interests include combustion, and fuel cell technology applications.

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Jeongmin Ahn Syracuse University

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Prof. Jeongmin Ahn is an Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Syracuse University (SU). Prof. Ahn received a B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a M.S. degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and a Ph.D. degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Southern California.
Prof. Ahn has extensive research experience in combustion, propulsion, power generation, thermal management, and fuel cells: materials synthesis, fabrication, test and characterization of solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs). His research is currently focused on the experimental and analytical investigation, and the development of innovative SOFCs combined heating and power (CHP) system, ceramic membrane for CO2 recovery from combustion processes, all solid state Li-Ion batteries, and thermal transpiration based propulsion, pumping, and power generation. Currently, his research is conducted in the Combustion and Energy Research Laboratory (COMER) at SU.
Prof. Ahn has published over 20 papers in peer-reviewed journals (including Nature and other high impact journals) and books, and made over 150 technical presentations (including over 30 invited seminars in Korea, Japan, China, Germany, and United States). He is an Associate Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and astronautics (AIAA) and served as a Board of the Combustion Institute. He is a recipient of the Society of Automotive Engineering (SAE) Ralph R. Teetor Educational Award, LCS Faculty Excellence Award, CEA Reid Miller Excellence Award and WSU MME Excellence in Teaching Award. He has also been named AIAA's Spotlight Member of the Month and awarded the WSU Faculty Excellence Recognition Program.

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Technology innovation moves at an exponential rate making it extremely difficult for engineering instructors to educate students on the most recent practices. As a direct result most students, after completing their programs, have a strong understanding of fundamental theory, but little grasp on practical application shifting the responsibility onto all future employers. Therefore, in order to connect the disjoint of engineering theory and practice, universities must begin to reform their curriculum to allow students to understand the depth of engineering fundamental principles while also investigating how said principles branch into multiple sectors of industry. This is also known as developing T-shaped professional skills through a balanced teaching of theory and practice. In order to achieve this, a graduate elective course was created to provide an active learning environment where students focused on fuel cell systems, their technologies, and their environmental consequences. The course included a challenging and engaging curriculum, a three-day lecture series, interactive hands-on laboratory experiments, and a real world system design final project.

Over the past years this course has successfully strengthened student’s ability to connect theory and practical application and understand this technologies role in related fields. However, since this was a graduate elective course, which incorporated students from a variety of professional backgrounds, that connection was strengthen even further. Graduate students past experiences including industrial work force, university research, and continuing student, aided the course’s agenda by providing a variety of backgrounds and prospective that encouraged the development of T-professional skills in all students. This idea was not only shown through student performance, but also from student feedback provided from beginning, middle, and end of the semester surveys. As the class progressed, students were divided into teams, based on different experience levels, where they would design a working fuel cell system with balance of plant components and discuss its implementation and impact in a real world scenario. Initially, the surveys suggested that some of the more experienced students understood the practical application of said fuel cells, but lacked the depth of knowledge concerning the theory of technology, while students with little experience showed little understanding of fundamentals and practical application. The final survey suggested that by combining students from diverse backgrounds, more experienced students could guide weaker students in bridging the gap between fundamental theory and application. This is further seen in students’ final project, which saw a variety of methods and approaches to their designs. Lastly, the final survey also showed that the overall course allowed students from diverse demographics to successfully develop T-shaped professional skills, ultimately providing them with a stronger confidence in their ability as practicing engineers.

Falkenstein-Smith, R. L., & Milcarek, R. J., & Garrett, M. J., & Ahn, J. (2016, June), Exploring T-Shaped Professional Skill Development in Graduate Students in an Advanced Energy Systems Course Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26864

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