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The Changing Che Curriculum – How Much Change Is Appropriate?

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

ChE: Curriculum Reform & Assessment

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.1258.1 - 11.1258.7



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Paper Authors


Richard Turton West Virginia University

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Richard Turton received his B.S. degree from the University of Nottingham and his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from Oregon State University. His research interests are in fluidization and particle technology and their application to particle coating for pharmaceutical applications. Dick is a co-author of the text Analysis, Synthesis, and Design of Chemical Processes (2nd ed.), published by Prentice Hall in 2003.

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Joseph Shaeiwitz West Virginia University

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Joseph A. Shaeiwitz received his B.S. degree from the University of Delaware and his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from Carnegie Mellon University. His professional interests are in design, design education, and outcomes assessment. Joe is an associate editor of the Journal of Engineering Education, and he is a co-author of the text Analysis, Synthesis, and Design of Chemical Processes (2nd ed.), published by Prentice Hall in 2003.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

The Changing ChE Curriculum – How Much Change is Appropriate Introduction

The changing chemical engineering curriculum is a popular topic these days. Most agree that changes are needed to keep up with evolution of the discipline and to continue to attract high- quality students. However, there appears to be disagreement on the speed and scope of these changes. Some prefer a revolutionary approach1, while others prefer an evolutionary approach.2 This paper presents the views of one academic who started studying chemical engineering in the slide-rule era.

To emphasize the need for curriculum change, several of the excellent papers on the knowledge structure of chemical engineering can be examined.3,4 These papers were published in 1993, and there was no specific mention of life sciences, nanotechnology, or molecular phenomena (even in the thermodynamics class). The knowledge structure of chemical engineering has changed significantly over the history of the discipline. This change occurred at different rates at different times, and historically, the undergraduate curriculum has changed concurrently. With the exception of incorporation of advances in computational technology, the chemical engineering curriculum has more or less remained stagnant for a generation. Therefore changes are needed. However, it may not be possible to add new content without removing some existing content and still maintain a four-year degree. The question being debated is what should be added and what can be removed.

The U.S. chemical industry has not experienced much growth in several decades; in fact, it is probably contracting as more capacity is transferred overseas. Employment opportunities for chemical engineers are moving from jobs involving continuous, organic, chemical processes at traditional chemical companies to batch production and product innovation at consumer and life- science oriented companies.5,6 Therefore, to remain relevant, most academics agree that biology should now be included as an enabling science, along with chemistry and physics. But what other changes are needed?

The starting point for any curriculum change is virtually the same in every department. An examination of the chemical engineering curriculum shows very little difference between departments. The unified curriculum in chemical engineering, which has historically set chemical engineering apart from other engineering disciplines, may now be a weakness rather than a strength, which would suggest that it is time for a paradigm shift. Some will say that we have not responded quickly enough to the changing profession, and this may be true. Others will blame ABET. However, the new criteria allow far more flexibility, but departments have been slow to make changes. Still others will blame the university reward system, which does nothing to encourage senior faculty members to devote time to significant updates of classes they have taught for years or to encourage anyone to write books that embrace the changing face of chemical engineering.

A case has been made for a major curriculum revolution in chemical engineering.1 The argument will be made here that while such a revolution may be appropriate for some, it is not appropriate for all chemical engineering departments.

Turton, R., & Shaeiwitz, J. (2006, June), The Changing Che Curriculum – How Much Change Is Appropriate? Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--208

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