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Suggested Citation:"Rice University." National Academy of Engineering. 2012. Infusing Real World Experiences into Engineering Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18184.
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Beyond Traditional Borders

Lead Institution: Rice University, Houston, TX

Collaborating Institutions: Academic institutions, healthcare organizations, non-governmental organizations, and government agencies

Category: Course/Curricular

Date Implemented: 2005

Website: www.btb.rice.edu

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Program Description: The Beyond Traditional Borders (BTB) design curriculum teaches undergraduates from all majors to use the engineering design process as a framework to formulate solutions to complex health challenges identified by a global network of clinical partners delivering healthcare in low-resource settings. Students work in interdisciplinary teams to develop and implement technologies in response to the challenges, and clinical partners mentor teams as they use the engineering design process to develop their technologies. Students identify design criteria; design solutions; build, test, and refine prototypes; and present work to multidisciplinary teams of mentors, working on increasingly complex design challenges as they progress through the curriculum and invest in their designs because they want to produce a useful intervention to improve global health, not simply to earn a good grade. Exceptional students undertake extended summer internships to implement their technologies in hospitals and clinics in the developing world. Under the guidance of trained healthcare providers, interns are expected to: demonstrate technologies and gather feedback; develop and implement a solution to another barrier to health care identified by the host site; and pinpoint a new challenge for which a solution can be developed and implemented. U.S. academic institutions collaborated to develop the original curriculum and continue to provide design challenges and mentorship. Healthcare organizations in low-resource areas in the developing world and U.S. help identify design challenges, mentor students, give feedback, and host interns. Foreign academic institutions provide formal research opportunities. One technology was licensed to industry, students have filed 8 provisional patents with 3 converted to utility patents or patents pending, and students have developed 58 designs used in 21 countries to care for 45,000 patients.

Anticipated and Actual Outcomes: BTB was designed to: (1) create an interdisciplinary cadre of graduates that would become the next generation of leaders in global health and (2) teach a diverse group of students how to use science and engineering for humanitarian benefit. Another objective was to develop new technologies to implement in resource-poor settings to improve health outcomes and reduce global health inequities. In addition to learning the engineering design process, it was anticipated that students would learn cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural problem-solving and leadership skills, preparing them for careers and graduate education in global health technology. Students participating in either BTB design courses or other Rice courses with a civic research component were surveyed. More BTB students reported the course project enhanced skills in: creativity (60% BTB; 28% other); leadership (78% BTB; 44% other); ability to effect social change (60% BTB; 40% other); and ability to solve real-world problems (94% BTB; 76% other). A survey showed that 95% of international interns intend to include global heath in their careers.

Assessment Information: The program is assessed according to the following questions: (1) How is the program valuable or not for students in the short or long term? What are student, faculty, and international partner perspectives on the students’ experiences? Indicators include number of students who pursue higher education or careers related to science/global health technologies and number of technologies developed and disseminated that improve global health. Surveys, student career paths, mentor feedback, student focus groups, student outcomes, and the impact of current and future designs are used for assessment. (2) In student achievement and future career directions of undergraduate students, what is the relative value of project-based courses, local research experiences, international research experiences, international internships, and programs integrating all approaches? Indicators include student value of experiences; persistence in related research and development activities; participation rates in multiple programs; and publications resulting from participation. Course-instructor evaluations, student team evaluations, exit questionnaires, alumni surveys, student and faculty vitas, publication searches, citation impact, and peer review through an external evaluation committee are used for assessment. Alumni are just entering their careers, but four student-authored papers have been published in peer-reviewed journals and student teams have won 18 competition awards.

Funding/Sustainability: The program was implemented with $2.2 million over 4 years. Students work on their technologies in the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen, a 12,000 sq. ft. space for undergraduate students with ready access to design tools, prototyping equipment, computational facilities, meeting rooms, and ample space for prototype design and development. In addition to global health technologies, the OEDK supports design projects across a wide variety of topics. Funding was provided by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute through its Undergraduate Science Education Program. Rice provided support for staff salaries and philanthropic funding for internships and design teams was also received. BTB has been institutionalized as a minor in global health technologies, which has engaged more than 10% of undergraduates since 2006. Women represent 65% of students in the minor’s core courses; underrepresented minorities represent 18%. The design courses in the program and the facilities to support the efforts of the design teams are operated primarily with institutional support. Currently, the international internship is primarily supported with grant funds; however, the program is steadily expanding through philanthropic support for internships and design teams.

Suggested Citation:"Rice University." National Academy of Engineering. 2012. Infusing Real World Experiences into Engineering Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18184.
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The aim of this report is to encourage enhanced richness and relevance of the undergraduate engineering education experience, and thus produce better-prepared and more globally competitive graduates, by providing practical guidance for incorporating real world experience in US engineering programs. The report, a collaborative effort of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD), builds on two NAE reports on The Engineer of 2020 that cited the importance of grounding engineering education in real world experience. This project also aligns with other NAE efforts in engineering education, such as the Grand Challenges of Engineering, Changing the Conversation, and Frontiers of Engineering Education.

This publication presents 29 programs that have successfully infused real world experiences into engineering or engineering technology undergraduate education. The Real World Engineering Education committee acknowledges the vision of AMD in supporting this project, which provides useful exemplars for institutions of higher education who seek model programs for infusing real world experiences in their programs. The NAE selection committee was impressed by the number of institutions committed to grounding their programs in real world experience and by the quality, creativity, and diversity of approaches reflected in the submissions. A call for nominations sent to engineering and engineering technology deans, chairs, and faculty yielded 95 high-quality submissions. Two conditions were required of the nominations: (1) an accredited 4-year undergraduate engineering or engineering technology program was the lead institutions, and (2) the nominated program started operation no later than the fall 2010 semester. Within these broad parameters, nominations ranged from those based on innovations within a single course to enhancements across an entire curriculum or institution.

Infusing Real World Experiences into Engineering Education is intended to provide sufficient information to enable engineering and engineering technology faculty and administrators to assess and adapt effective, innovative models of programs to their own institution's objectives. Recognizing that change is rarely trivial, the project included a brief survey of selected engineering deans concern in the adoption of such programs.

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