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Revising the Requirements of a Cross-Departmental Project-Centric Undergraduate Engineering Program and Launching a new Sustainability and Climate-themed Track

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2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Minneapolis, MN

Publication Date

August 23, 2022

Start Date

June 26, 2022

End Date

June 29, 2022

Conference Session

Multidisciplinary Engineering Division Technical Session - NAE Grand Challenges, Graduate Students, Sustainability, and Makerspaces

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Rea Lavi Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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Rea Lavi is Lecturer and a Curriculum Designer with the NEET undergraduate program in the School of Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA. He received his Ph.D. from the Faculty of Education in Science and Technology, Technion—Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel. His research interests in STEM higher education involve the fostering and assessment of thinking skills involved in complex problem-solving, with special focus on systems thinking and creative thinking. His doctoral research received several awards, including the Zeff Fellowship for Excelling First-year Ph.D. Students and the Miriam and Aaron Gutwirth Fellowship for Excelling Ph.D. Students. Dr. Lavi has recently received an award from the d’Arebeloff Fund for Excellence in Education to develop and teach a new undergraduate course, ‘22.s092 - Tackling Challenges in Climate and Sustainability with Ways of Thinking’. He is the inventor of the SNAP Method® for structured creative problem-solving (US & UK trademarks).

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M. Mehdi Salek


Amitava Mitra Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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Amitava ‘Babi’ Mitra, Ph.D. is the founding Executive Director, New Engineering Education Transformation (NEET) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA, a certificate program launched in 2017 to reimagine undergraduate engineering education at MIT. There are over 230 sophomores, juniors and seniors in NEET today, making it the fourth largest undergraduate academic cohort at MIT. They come from 26 majors, 15 departments and all 5 schools. 64% are women and 32% come from underrepresented groups. 48% of the applicants this year said that they heard about it from upper-class NEET students.

Mitra is enthusiastic about implementing transformative ‘start-up’ educational endeavors; he enjoys visioning, formulating, designing, and planning the implementation, and then taking it through to fruition. These include setting up and running educational initiatives within established cultures (as in his current role at MIT, USA) or at start-ups (as it was at BML Munjal University, India).

He has over twenty-five years of experience in institution building, higher education, corporate e-learning, and distance education. He transformed a small e-learning R&D group into the profitable Knowledge Solutions Business at NIIT, Inc., Atlanta, Georgia, USA as its Senior Vice-President. In addition, he is a founding member, Board of Governors of an NGO, Pan Himalayan Grassroots Development Foundation, Kumaon, India and as the founding Dean, School of Engineering & Technology, BML Munjal University (BMU), India during 2013-16 he launched ‘Joy of Engineering’, a first-year hands-on course designed to get students engaged with engineering.

Mitra is regularly invited to deliver keynote addresses and be a panelist at global conferences focusing on engineering education. He has presented peer-reviewed co-authored technical papers at the last four Annual Conferences (2018-21) of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) and is a guest editor, Advances in Engineering Education(AEE) Special Issue on Worldwide Leading Innovative Engineering Education Programs, Spring 2021, Vol 9, Issue 3, August 2021, He is a contributor to the section on ‘Envisioning Learning & Teaching in 30 years’, as part of The London Accord Statement from the conference on ‘Key Technologies Shaping the Future’, convened by the Royal Academy of Engineering, London, UK and CESAER, Leuven, Belgium during July 1-2, 2021. He serves on the board of the ArborCreek Montessori Academy, Dallas, TX, USA and on the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion working committee, Staff Advice & Implementation Committee, School of Engineering, MIT.

Dr. Mitra earned a dual degree in chemical engineering (ranked third) and chemistry (ranked second) and a PhD in chemical engineering from the Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS), Pilani, India. He conducted his doctoral research at the department of chemical engineering, MIT under the guidance of Professor Adel F. Sarofim. His NIEHS-funded research at MIT focused on modelling and controlling the production of mutagenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons from coal combustion and led to peer-reviewed publications. Mitra studied at St. Columba’s School, New Delhi, from where he graduated with distinction; he was a National Science Talent Scholar and was ranked all-India 36th. In addition, he was ranked 175th on the all-India merit list of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Joint Entrance Examinations. Mitra was born in New York City and grew up in India. He enjoys food, music, the intersects across people and technology, growing up with his children, and playing squash.

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Rebecca Shepardson

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Justin Lavallee Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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Gregory Long Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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Nathan Melenbrink Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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Present-day higher education institutions offering undergraduate engineering programs need to prepare their students for a world filled with complex global challenges. Such preparation requires the acquisition of multidisciplinary knowledge and the application of multidisciplinary methodologies. A pilot initiative was launched in Fall 2017 for an elective three-year (sophomore to senior year) cross-departmental multi-disciplinary undergraduate engineering program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) named New Engineering Education Transformation (NEET). The program has three cross-departmental pathways across STEM disciplines and technical domains. The program has completed its fourth year of operation and has grown to become the fourth-largest undergraduate academic cohort at MIT. This paper is divided into two parts: the first part describes the revision of program requirements and their implementation during Fall 2019–Fall 2020. The second part describes the launching of a new single-themed program titled Climate & Sustainability Systems, which took place and was implemented during Summer–Fall 2021. Both initiatives responded to issues and changing circumstances raised by students, faculty, and instructional staff, with the aim of affording students more flexibility, reducing the additional workload beyond their chosen majors, enhancing their educational experience, and increasing their engagement with the program-wide community. In January 2020, following feedback collected from MIT students, faculty, instructional staff, and senior administration, we began a systematic process of reviewing the program’s academic requirements. Data collected includes student questionnaires and specifications of program requirements throughout the study period. The revised requirements were published toward the end of the Spring 2020 semester, serendipitously around the same time as the COVID-19 mandated university-wide pivot from in-person on-campus teaching to emergency remote teaching and were implemented in Fall 2020. Since the publication of these new requirements, enrollment in the program has increased substantially year-on-year across all program threads. Subsequent data collection during Spring 2020 and Spring 2021 showed that word-of-mouth about the program has grown stronger, with ‘current students’ and ‘other first-years’ being two of the most-cited sources as to how first-years get to know about NEET. This paper explains the impetus for changing the program requirements, describes how the new requirements were formulated and implemented, and outlines what we have learned from implementing the revised requirements. We also describe how we collaborated with various stakeholders in the planning, design, and implementation of the revised requirements. For the second part of the paper, we describe how we launched a new climate and sustainability pathway based on our three-year experience of introducing pathways connected to energy, manufacturing ands materials, and sustainable development of cities, and on the growing interest amongst students in combating climate change in a sustainable manner. We describe how the process of consolidation was planned out and designed, how we collaborated with various stakeholders and how initial implementation has undergone. It should be emphasized that the approach we have taken here is largely qualitative and based primarily on how students and other key stakeholders responded to, engaged with the NEET program, and helped to evolve it. NEET leadership commissioned a systematic programmatic evaluation starting from Spring 2021, and we will be guided by their assessment of the changes as we look to the future. This paper is intended for institutional leadership, departmental leadership, faculty, and academic staff seized by the need to create and implement relevant and engaging cross-departmental multi-disciplinary undergraduate engineering programs.

Lavi, R., & Salek, M. M., & Mitra, A., & Shepardson, R., & Lavallee, J., & Long, G., & Melenbrink, N. (2022, August), Revising the Requirements of a Cross-Departmental Project-Centric Undergraduate Engineering Program and Launching a new Sustainability and Climate-themed Track Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN.

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