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Integrating Computing into Thermodynamics: Lessons Learned

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Computers in Education General Technical Session I

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.901.1 - 22.901.19



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Paper Authors


Melissa A. Pasquinelli North Carolina State University

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Dr. Melissa A. Pasquinelli is an Assistant Professor in Textile Engineering at North Carolina State University. Her research expertise is in the design and application of computational approaches that predict and modulate the properties of systems at the nanoscale, including polymers, proteins, and fibers. (More information about her team and their research projects can be found at She also teaches a variety of courses each year at the undergraduate and graduate levels on topics such as computer modeling, engineering thermodynamics, sustainability, and textile materials and systems. She was awarded a University Teaching Award in 2009 by NC State, and a Graduate Teaching Award in 1999 by Carnegie Mellon. In addition to her research and teaching activities, Dr. Pasquinelli has a long history of community outreach activities, which has included judging several regional and state science competitions a year, mentoring females and minorities interested in technical fields, serving as a mentor to K-12 science teachers, and presenting science-based workshops to students in middle school and high school.

Prior to joining NC State, Dr. Pasquinelli completed two postdoctoral positions; she worked for two years with the Office of Research and Development at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and she also received postdoctoral training at Duke University. She received her Ph.D. in theoretical chemistry from Carnegie Mellon University in 2002 and her B.S. in chemistry with honors in 1996 from Seton Hill University in Greensburg, PA. In her spare time, Dr. Pasquinelli enjoys exploring the outdoors, playing cards, listening to music, and practicing yoga and pilates.

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Jeff Joines North Carolina State University

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Jeffrey A. Joines is an Associate Professor in the Textile Engineering, Chemistry, and Science Department at NC State University and is currently the Associate Department Head of Undergraduate Studies in the Textile Engineering, Chemistry, and Science department. He received a B.S. in Electrical Engineering and B.S. in Industrial Engineering in 1990, a M.S in Industrial Engineering in 1990, and Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering in 1996 all from NC State University He received the 1997 Pritsker Doctoral Dissertation Award from Institute of Industrial Engineers for the year’s best dissertation. His expertise is in supply chain optimization utilizing computer simulation and computational optimization methods where he has published numerous papers and given dozens of international conference presentations. Dr Joines teaches graduate and undergraduate classes in computer information systems, computer based modeling in Excel and VBA, and simulation and six-sigmaDr. Joines has taught many industrial people in the areas of Design For Six Sigma, Simulation and Six Sigma, Data Management to Assist In Six Sigma through the textile extension programs Six Sigma Black Belt and Master Black Belt program. ( He has saved companies millions of dollars in utilizing his expertise in simulation, inventory control and job shop scheduling. He was awarded the 2006 NC State University Outstanding Teaching Award and is a member of the Academy of Outstanding Teachers. In 2009, Dr. Joines along with Dr Roberts were awarded the Gertrude Cox Award for Innovative Excellence in Teaching and Learning with Technology for Transformative Large Scale Projects.

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Integrating Computing into Thermodynamics: Lessons Learned Melissa A. Pasquinelli and Jeffrey A. Joines Textile Engineering, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695 Many engineering curricula around the country are re-evaluating their introductory computerprogramming requirements. Realizing that the standard introductory programming courses nolonger appropriately complement the education of systems engineers (i.e., Textile Engineers(TE) and Industrial and Systems Engineers (ISE)), a new Computer-Based Modeling forEngineers course (TE/ISE 110) that integrates critical thinking and problem solving within acomputational thinking framework has been developed and taught for the past five years. Thisintroductory course is intended to teach students how to model problems relevant to their specificengineering discipline through software platforms (i.e., Excel and VBA) commonly used inindustry. A focus of the course is to encourage students to analyze solutions through thedevelopment of decision support systems. Based on the successful implementation of thiscourse, our goal is to now create a computational thinking thread that spans from the freshman tosenior years, where students can apply their freshman year computing to take computingcompetency to the next level, where they are able to perform high-level computing tasks withinthe context of a discipline. One such course selected by our program is TE 303: Thermodynamics for Textile Engineers,which is an engineering thermodynamics course that is taught from both the molecular andmacroscopic perspectives and is taken in the junior or senior year. TE 303 is offered each fall toabout 25-40 students, most of whom are TE majors. The objective of this action research projectis to determine if homework assignments in TE 303 that utilize Excel with VBA will enhance thestudents’ understanding of thermodynamics concepts and principles, retain the computing skillsthey learned in previous courses and gain experience in adapting these skills to a variety of newapplications, and improve their confidence in utilizing computing for engineering problemsolving. The research questions will be assessed using the following instruments: (1) Surveystudents at the beginning and the end of the course on their confidence and competency onspecific Excel/VBA skills; (2) Compare performance on test problems that are correlated withthe use of specific computing skills, such as a sensitivity analysis of thermodynamic properties;and (3) Perform a self-assessment on homework assignments throughout the semester, and tomake changes to future assignments accordingly. In this paper, we will illustrate the kinds of computing that were utilized in thermodynamics.The project has assessment data over three years where each year was modified based on theprevious year. The lessons learned in introducing computing into engineering courses will beaddressed in terms of the amount of computing exercises to paper calculations and the types ofassistance needed to help students in overcoming the time since taking the first computingcourse. Future directions in this endeavor will also be discussed.

Pasquinelli, M. A., & Joines, J. (2011, June), Integrating Computing into Thermodynamics: Lessons Learned Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18218

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