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Implementing a Challenge-Inspired Undergraduate Experience

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

Works in Progress: Curricula and Pathways

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Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Marcia Pool University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

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Dr. Marcia Pool is a Lecturer in bioengineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In her career, Marcia has been active in improving undergraduate education through developing problem-based laboratories to enhance experimental design skills; developing a preliminary design course focused on problem identification and market space (based on an industry partner’s protocol); and mentoring and guiding student teams through the senior design capstone course and a translational course following senior design. To promote biomedical/bioengineering, Marcia works with Women in Engineering to offer outreach activities and is engaged at the national level as Executive Director of the biomedical engineering honor society, Alpha Eta Mu Beta.

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Rohit Bhargava University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Rohit Bhargava is Bliss Faculty Scholar of Engineering and Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is a faculty member with affiliations in several departments across campus (Primary – Bioengineering: Affiliated - Electrical and Computer Engineering, Mechanical Science and Engineering, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Chemistry) as well as the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. Rohit received dual B.Tech. degrees (in Chemical Engineering and Polymer Science and Engineering) from the Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi in 1996 and his doctoral thesis work at Case Western Reserve University (Department of Macromolecular Science and Engineering) was in the area of polymer spectroscopy. He then worked as a Research Fellow at the National Institutes of Health (2000-2005) in the area of biomedical vibrational spectroscopy. Rohit has been at Illinois since as Assistant Professor (2005-2011), Associate Professor (2011-2012) and Professor (2012-). Rohit was the first assistant professor hired into the new Bioengineering department and played a key role in the development of its curriculum and activities. He later founded and serves as the coordinator of the Cancer Community@Illinois, a group dedicated to advancing cancer-related research and scholarship on campus. Research in the Bhargava laboratories focuses on fundamental theory and simulation for vibrational spectroscopic imaging, developing new instrumentation and developing chemical imaging for molecular pathology. Using 3D printing and engineered tumor models, recent research seeks to elucidate hetero-cellular interactions in cancer progression. Rohit’s work has been recognized with several research awards nationally. Among recent honors are the Meggers Award (Society for applied spectroscopy, 2014), Craver Award (Coblentz Society, 2013) and the FACSS Innovation Award (2012). Rohit has also been recognized for his dedication to teaching in the College of Engineering (Rose and Everitt awards) and he is routinely nominated to the list of teachers ranked excellent at Illinois.

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P. Scott Carney University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

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P. Scott Carney is a Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Illinois where he has been since 2001. His group website may be found at Carney teaches the ECE senior capstone course and a rotation of three advanced graduate courses in optics. He holds a Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Rochester (1999) and was a post-doc at Washington University (1999-2001). He is a theorist with research interests in inverse problems, imaging, coherence theory, and other branches of optical physics. Carney is the co-organizer and creator of the Saturday Engineering for Everyone lectures, a popular lecture series for all ages at the University of Illinois. He is an Education Innovation Fellow in the Academy for Excellence in Engineering Education.

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Dipanjan Pan University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

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Prof Dipanjan Pan is presently an Assistant Professor in Bioengineering and the Director for M.Eng in Bioinstrumentation Program at the College of Engineering.He is also a full-time faculty member at the Beckman Institute, an affiliate in the Materials Science and Engineering department and faculty with the Institute in Sustainability in Energy and Environment (iSEE). He is a full member of UIC cancer center and also an affiliate of Carle Cancer Center. Prior to coming to Illinois in 2013, he was an Assistant Professor at the Washington University School of Medicine.
His primary area of work is application of nanotechnology in bio-medicine in a broadly defined sense, emphasizing translatable materials development. His group uniquely merge drug discovery, drug re-purposing and materials science with biomedical imaging modalities for translational and pre-clinical application. The other area of his research interest is sustainability through bioengineering. His research has been externally funded through NIH (R01), NSF, American Heart Association, Children’s Discovery Institute, Michael Reese Foundation and other agencies. In close collaboration with clinicians he was successful in translating his work for commercial application (Ocean Nanotech, and others). He is the founder/co-founder of three University Start-ups- Vitruvian Biotech, KaloCyte, Inc. and InnSight, Inc.
He is an elected fellow of Royal Society of Chemistry (UK). He is an editorial board member of Scientific Report (Nature Publishing) and also serve as in editorial advisory board member for Molecular Pharmaceutics (ACS).

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Andrew Michael Smith University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

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Andrew M. Smith, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). Dr. Smith received a B.S. in Chemistry in 2002 and a Ph.D. in Bioengineering in 2008, both from the Georgia Institute of Technology. As a graduate student he was a Whitaker Foundation Fellow. He continued his postdoctoral studies at Emory University as a Distinguished CCNE Fellow and NIH K99 Postdoctoral Fellow. Dr. Smith's research interests include nanomaterial engineering, single-molecule imaging, and cancer biology. He teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Bioengineering.

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This work in progress describes the development and implementation of challenge-inspired undergraduate experience. Many students choose engineering but lose interest when faced with learning foundational concepts with no connection to real-world problems. The Cancer Scholars Program (CSP) creates this connection by interweaving a real-world problem throughout multiple courses in the four-year curriculum. Traditionally, students learn engineering skills in isolated coursework; however, a community of students inspired by a grand challenge will develop interest in engineering by learning to apply foundational principles to understand the real-world problem.

In fall 2014, the CSP enrolled its first cohort of twelve, high achieving freshmen students (average ACT = 33.8) with five being female and four being first generation students. These students participated in the Frontiers in Cancer Research course where Ted-style talks on cancer research were delivered, followed by facilitated discussion. In teams, students developed informational videos on a cancer related topic. In spring 2015, students joined research laboratories based on their interest. At the end of the first year, the CSP retained ten of the initial twelve students. During summer, the ten students participated in research on campus or at another university.

In fall 2015, the CSP enrolled the second cohort of twelve students (average ACT 34.8) with six being female and one being first generation. The second cohort is progressing through the Frontiers in Cancer Research course and identifying research interests. The first cohort is continuing research experiences and participating in the Healthcare Innovation and Translation course focused on translation to use, ethics, commercial translation, policy, and FDA regulations. For this class, the students will generate a mock new device exemption (NDE) for submission to the FDA. In spring 2016, the first cohort will continue research and finalize summer immersion plans (clinical or industry).

All students are highly engaged in the program and have formed a close community of supportive peers. The first cohort participated in a focus group (n=11) to identify positive aspects and areas of improvement. Responses demonstrated the first cohort wanted to support the second cohort by vertical mentoring, providing laboratory tours and technique training, and social events. Other recommended items included using the program as a university recruiting tool and creating an honors certificate for the program. To provide support to the second cohort and develop the CSP community, structured time was allotted for the first cohort to meet and socialize with the second cohort. In addition to the supportive community that has developed, CSP students have been successful in the research setting with three of the first cohort presenting (as sophomores) at the national Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) meeting.

Through the CSP, students develop a community of support, mentoring, and intellectual pursuit. In addition, the CSP is appreciated by females as all females in the first cohort remained in the program, and females represent fifty percent of the second cohort. During each year in the CSP, students participate in undergraduate research, interact with the CSP faculty in coursework/experiences, and engage in experiences that allow them to determine their career trajectories.

Pool, M., & Bhargava, R., & Carney, P. S., & Pan, D., & Smith, A. M. (2016, June), Implementing a Challenge-Inspired Undergraduate Experience Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25591

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