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STEM-Oriented Alliance for Research (SOAR): An Educational Model for Interdisciplinary Project-based Learning

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Multidisciplinary Engineering Experiences

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering

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Paper Authors


Jacob Murray Washington State University, Everett

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Dr. Jacob Murray graduated with his Bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering and PhD in Electrical and Computer Engineering from WSU in 2010 and 2014, respectively. Today, Dr. Murray works as Clinical Assistant Professor and Program Coordinator for the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at WSU Everett. Dr. Murray's research interests include sustainable computing, wireless network-on-chip architectures, dynamic thermal management, dynamic voltage and frequency scaling, and interdisciplinary course design. Dr. Murray has 17 publications and conference proceedings and has been the IEEE Seattle Section Education Society Chair since 2017.

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Lucrezia Cuen Paxson Washington State University, Everett

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Lucrezia Cuen Paxson is a clinical assistant professor in the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University-Everett and is a graduate of King's College London. After a career as a broadcast journalist and foreign correspondent covering stories around the globe, Cuen Paxson joined the Murrow College in 2012. She founded the college's Global Engagement program and Backpack Environmental program. She led the Backpack Journalism program and developed the College’s faculty-led study abroad programs to Cuba and Britain.
She teaches Reporting Across Platforms, Brand Journalism, Communicating Science and Technology, Broadcast News Reporting, and mentors students in the multidisciplinary Boeing Scholars and Department of Energy's Wind Turbine Competition programs. Her current research area is Advancing Communication in STEM and STEM+ interdisciplinary fields.

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Soobin Seo Washington State University, Everett

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Soobin Seo is an assistant professor of hospitality business management at WSU Everett. Her research mostly focuses on Food and Technology, Consumer behavior, and Service marketing. Her research measured the global impacts of food safety events on firms and consumers. By understanding how consumers respond to food safety-related issues or events, she strives to develop better crisis management tactics or communication strategies. One of her recent interests is utilizing smartphones or social media in crisis communication in relation to food safety events. Dr. Seo earned her Ph.D. from Purdue University and taught at The Ohio State University until she joined WSU Everett in 2017.

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Mark Beattie Washington State University, Everett

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Dr. Beattie is Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Clinical Assistant Professor in the School of Hospitality Business Management at Washington State University Everett. Dr. Beattie teaches a full range of hospitality coursework, including managed services and event planning. Nearly all of his courses are designed using hybrid and online course delivery with experience in designing over 20 courses. He has taught and researched internationally in Switzerland, Malawi, and Tanzania. Dr. Beattie has over 15 publications and conference proceedings to his credit including publications in Jesuit Higher Education, The International Journal of Higher Education and Democracy, and The International Journal of Servant-Leadership. Dr. Beattie is a reviewer for the Hospitality and Tourism Graduate Student Education and Research Conference and is an Assistant Editor for Narrative Magazine. Dr. Beattie has over 30 years of experience in the Hospitality Industry with 20 of those years in management positions with restaurants, hotel food and beverage operations, and managed services.

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This article details the development, design, and implementation of an interdisciplinary project-based learning approach. The project offers a transformative educational experience to students, merging coursework across three different academic disciplines. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education has been challenged by industries to incorporate business and communication experiences (and vice versa) that prepare students for the workplace. Incorporating interdisciplinary project-based coursework provides experiential learning for students, a skillset that employers indicate as desirable.

To facilitate the interdisciplinary academic project, we began with group social interventions. These interventions were used in a multi-component plan to improve student resiliency and empowerment to support social, emotional, and academic development. This paper presents the development of the interdisciplinary course, preliminary observations, and redesign of the course.

Phase one developed an interdisciplinary course launched in the spring of 2019. A total of 59 students participated in the project, working on seven industry-sponsored projects. While all students were required to work together, each discipline was responsible for separate deliverables in their respective courses. All students collaborated on presentations to the clients. This project involved surveys and observations during team-building activities.

Initially students expressed fear, trepidation, and excitement regarding the proposed interdisciplinary collaboration. Team-building activities were introduced through an escape room experience. This allowed the authors to observe and measure the teams’ success, which revealed a high level of positive interdependence, group processing, and social skills. Later, students demonstrated relatively high levels of satisfaction, enjoyment, and agreed this was a unique educational experience. However, students rated the group structural components relatively lower than other aspects; this data guided and informed the redesign into phase two.

Phase two developed additional structure to our interdisciplinary project. We built a project road map over summer 2019 based on the feedback from students in phase one. The road map details major milestones and events. The student teams meet weekly for these events and milestones and have additional course modules to complete.

Our data suggest collaboration in interdisciplinary project-based learning does initially produce disorientation, some trepidation, and confusion. However, ultimately these disorienting dilemmas lead to transformative learning, increased confidence, and cohesion among disciplines. The results of this paper will inform and guide engineering educators in creating interdisciplinary project-based coursework that meets the growing demands of the workplace of today and the future.

Murray, J., & Cuen Paxson, L., & Seo, S., & Beattie, M. (2020, June), STEM-Oriented Alliance for Research (SOAR): An Educational Model for Interdisciplinary Project-based Learning Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35206

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