Rapid City, S.D. — The South Dakota School of Mines & Technology was awarded more than $1.4 million in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education grants to better prepare leaders in science and engineering and share best practices with institutions worldwide. Among the awards is one from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to pave the way for community service engineering projects on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

“Mines is a great laboratory for best practices in teaching engineering, science, technology and math. These awards will help keep us at the forefront of teaching and better connect Mines with the community,” said Heather Wilson, president of South Dakota Mines.

First-ever EPICS program at SD Mines

Principal Investigator Jennifer Benning, Ph.D., Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, was awarded a $566,698 NSF grant to launch the Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) program at SD Mines. Of the 23 EPICS universities worldwide, Mines will be the first to partner with a tribal college, Oglala Lakota College (OLC), and 50 percent of projects will meet critical needs on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

The first EPICS project will focus on improving the greenhouse that Mines and OLC students designed and built last year. Among the improvements: implementing heating systems to grow produce year round. Benning hopes to also use funding to allow OLC students to earn academic credit for EPICS projects. The EPICS program will offer technical training and professional development in collaboration, communication, project management, diversity awareness and understanding social and cultural implications of engineering designs.

Other team members include Christopher Shearer, Ph.D., Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering; Stuart Kellogg, Ph.D., Department of Industrial Engineering; and Andrea Surovek, Ph.D., Department of Mechanical Engineering.

Credentialing innovative engineering education

Jennifer Karlin, Ph.D., Department of Industrial Engineering, received a $343,499 NSF grant to study credentialing of innovative educational practices. Unless intentionally addressed, the systems that have defined, and are based on, degree credentialing can stifle innovation in engineering education. Karlin says engineering education must evolve as technology does, pointing to large-scale curricular changes as key to successful adaptation.

Credentialing both new and re-envisioned programs is important to students seeking quality programs as well as employers seeking quality graduates. This study will analyze ongoing and completed large-scale innovative engineering education transformations across the country to determine best practices to support and sustain an infrastructure change.

Promoting system-level thinking in undergraduate engineering courses

The design of complex systems requires engineering graduates who can see beyond component issues to understand the system-level implications of their designs, for example, in submarines, surface vessels and autonomous robots.

Principal Investigator Karim Muci-Kuchler, Mark Bedillion, Cassandra Degen, Marius Ellingsen and Shaobo Huang, all Ph.D. faculty members in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, have been awarded a $303,224 grant from the Office of Naval Research to incorporate educational activities that promote system-level thinking and deal with Navy- and Marine Corps-related applications in an undergraduate product development course. Researchers will also develop assessment instruments to evaluate the effectiveness of these activities.

Teaching teamwork through real-world exercises

Principal Investigator Kevin Hadley, Ph.D., has been awarded a $184,275 NSF grant to teach teamwork through real-world exercises. For example, students could participate in a Center for Disease Control and Prevention team faced with a deadly pathogen, finding ways to contain the infection and develop cures before the spread of the disease becomes unmanageable.

Hadley says there is a large industrial need for better teamwork skills in STEM, but many courses lack formal teamwork training. Targeted to first-year engineering students, these exercises will develop skills in goal setting, task planning, communication and utilizing skill and intellectual diversity.

The program will also be beta-tested at Colorado School of Mines, University of North Dakota, Ohio Northern University, University of Kentucky, New Mexico Tech and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.

Hadley, Department of Chemical & Biological Engineering, will partner with Kyle Caudle, Ph.D., Department of Mathematics, chemical and biological engineering senior Laura Beckmann and co-investigator Ken Reid, Virginia Tech. Margo Vigeant, Bucknell University, and David Silverstein, University of Kentucky-Paducah, will serve as external evaluators.

Finding partnerships to increase participation of women in STEM

Shaobo Huang, Ph.D., Department of Mechanical Engineering, has been awarded a $49,135 subaward as co-principal investigator on a multi-university NSF grant that aims to increase the recruitment, retention and promotion of women faculty in the STEM disciplines through innovative gender equity policies at the system level over five years.

Collaborating universities include South Dakota State University, University of South Dakota, Dakota State University, Northern State University and Black Hills State University.