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Impact of a Graduate Elective in Microbial Soft Matter on Interdisciplinary Learning

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Discipline Specific Topics and Techniques

Tagged Division

Graduate Studies

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.692.1 - 24.692.14



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Paper Authors


Elizabeth J. Stewart University of Michigan

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Elizabeth J. Stewart is a PhD candidate at the University of Michigan in the Department of Chemical Engineering. Her primary research relates to the study of bacterial biofilms, a field at the intersection of engineering and microbiology. Elizabeth also pursues engineering education research to advance the understanding of interdisciplinary graduate education, an area familiar to her due to her experiences navigating the intersection of two disciplines.

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John G. Younger University of Michigan

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John Younger, MD, is a Professor and Associate Chair for Research in the Department of Emergency Medicine. In addition to being a practicing physician, he leads a research laboratory focused on issues related to bacterial fouling of materials. In the context of human health, the work concentrates on infections of implanted medical devices. In other contexts, his work focuses on ways to prevent, or even facilitate, bacterial interactions with engineered surfaces. Examples of the former include preventing fouling of industrial surfaces. An example of the latter is the development of new technologies to enhance the detection of low-level bacterial contamination in clinical samples and food.

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Michael J. Solomon University of Michigan

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Mike Solomon is Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Michigan. He received his Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley in 1996. After a post-doctoral appointment at the University of Melbourne, Australia, he joined the faculty at the University of Michigan. His group’s research interests are in colloidal assembly, gel rheology, and the biomechanics of bacterial biofilms. His educational interests include undergraduate chemical engineering separation, interdisciplinary graduate education, and the mentoring relationship between faculty and graduate students.

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Impact  of  a  graduate  elective  on  interdisciplinary  learning  Abstract  The   need   to   create   students   with   interdisciplinary   skillsets   is   increasingly   important   as  global   challenges   become   more   complex.       Interdisciplinary   skills   are   desired   within  academia,  government  and  industry.    As  a  result,  interdisciplinary  graduate  programs  and  interdisciplinary   research   funding   are   becoming   more   prevalent.     One   program   supporting  interdisciplinary   training   is   the   NSF’s   Integrative   Graduate   Education   Research   Training  (IGERT)   Program   to   fund   the   interdisciplinary   training   of   graduate   students.   In   2010,  Borrego  et  al.  analyzed  94  IGERT  awards  and  found  that  80%  of  the  programs  proposed  an  interdisciplinary   graduate   course   as   a   primary   way   to   achieve   interdisciplinary   learning  outcomes  for  students  (Borrego  et  al.,  2010,  JEE).    Through  our  work,  we  begin  to  answer  how   a   stand-­‐alone   graduate   course   impacts   student’s   interdisciplinary   perspectives   and  identities.  We  used  a  graduate  level  elective  course  listed  in  the  Chemical  Engineering  department,  as  a   pilot   study   to   advance   this   understanding   of   interdisciplinary   learning.     This   course  contained   content   related   to   both   engineering   and   microbiology   and   was   co-­‐taught   by  faculty   members   from   Chemical   Engineering   and   Emergency   Medicine.   The   course   was  organized   into   two   segments.     The   first   consisted   of   lectures   and   in-­‐class   problems,  alternating   between   the   two   disciplinary   perspectives,   and   the   second   focused   on  synthesizing  understanding  from  the  two  disciplines  through  group  project  work  and  real  world  examples  of  the  material  highlighted  by  external  speakers.  There  were  16  students  in   the   course   from   the   following   disciplines:   chemical   engineering,   civil   and   environmental  engineering,  microbiology  and  immunology,  and  chemistry.      Through  the  experiences  of  students  enrolled  in  this  graduate  level  elective,  we  evaluated  how  student  perception  of  interdisciplinary  learning  outcomes  varied  from  the  beginning  to  the  end  of  the  course.    We  conducted  surveys  throughout  the  course  to  evaluate  changes  in   student   self-­‐perception   of   interdisciplinary   learning   outcomes,   specifically   outcomes  related   to   interdisciplinary   skills,   recognizing   disciplinary   perspectives,   reflective   behavior  and   teamwork   skills.     These   outcomes   have   been   previously   correlated   to  interdisciplinarity   (Lattuca   et   al.,   2011,   ASEE).     To   triangulate   the   survey   data,   we   coded  responses   from   coursework   collected   during   the   term.     Using   this   data,   we   discuss   the  dependence  on  knowledge  related  to  a  student’s  major  field  of  study  to  their  responses  to  open-­‐ended   course   questions.     We   also   comment   on   aspects   of   the   course   that   may   have  contributed  to  changes  in  student  learning.      This   paper   demonstrates   the   effect   of   a   stand-­‐alone   course   on   student’s   interdisciplinary  perspectives   and   identities   through   analysis   of   changes   in   student-­‐perceived  interdisciplinary   learning   outcomes   as   well   as   discussion   of   the   extent   to   which   students  apply   information   from   fields   outside   of   their   own   during   an   interdisciplinary   graduate  course.    This  work  contributes  to  advancing  the  understanding  of  graduate  education  in  the  increasingly  interdisciplinary  climate.        

Stewart, E. J., & Younger, J. G., & Solomon, M. J. (2014, June), Impact of a Graduate Elective in Microbial Soft Matter on Interdisciplinary Learning Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20584

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