New CoE initiatives will enhance students’ intellectual engagement

On May 6, a lifelong dream and aspiration came to fruition when I was announced as the next dean of the Georgia Tech College of Engineering.

As I assume this new role, I look forward to the opportunities and challenges that we will all take on together within engineering and with other colleges and units across campus. With the nation’s largest and fourth ranked college of engineering, Tech is world renowned for our outstanding faculty and staff, as well as our exceptional facilities and other resources. However, I would assert that one of our greatest assets is our students.

Tech students have never been better. The freshman class boasts an average SAT score greater that 1400 (verbal plus quantitative) and an average high school GPA of about 3.8. Our students are truly some of the most talented young people at any institution in the world. Students this good need to be fully engaged in the educational process. Our students consistently ask for opportunities to interact with our world class faculty in innovative and meaningful ways—in and out of the classroom.

There are some important initiatives underway to help us accomplish this goal of enhanced intellectual engagement.

The first is the implementation of more flexible curricula. Several schools within the College are revising their curricula to increase the number of elective hours and give students more room to explore their interests. In addition, the College is participating in the “X College” initiative, which is investigating the potential for students to actually design their own degree programs.

Problem-based learning (PBL) is a pedagogical approach that has been pioneered at Georgia Tech in the Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering. In PBL classes, students are thrown into the role of an engineer and tasked with an open-ended problem that requires a highly integrative solution. Students present their proposed solutions, which in most cases, results in students’ realization of the incompleteness of their solution. This approach values failure and teaches students to learn from external critique. One of my priorities as Dean of Engineering is the propagation of the PBL approach more pervasively throughout the College.

While undergraduate research is not a new concept, it is a proven effective method of enhancing student/faculty interaction and student engagement. In fact, a key factor for motivating students to pursue advanced degrees and careers in science and engineering is a fruitful research experience as an undergraduate. At Georgia Tech, there are a plethora of mechanisms available for students to conduct undergraduate research—from the President’s Undergraduate Research Awards to the Research Option. The College of Engineering will continue to encourage our undergraduate students to pursue research activities.

In the Vertically-Integrated Projects (VIP) Program, students earn academic credit as they learn to design, build and deploy real systems. Participants are a part of a team that functions just like those in industry. These systems can have commercial and/or public service impact.

Lastly, the InVenture Prize is an innovation and entrepreneurship competition designed to engage the broader public and attract students and organizations to the concepts of innovation and entrepreneurship. The competition provides incentives, resources and mentors who foster and support undergraduate involvement. This multi-month, co-curricular experience culminates in a fun, high-profile event.

As my colleague, Wendy Newstetter, in the School of Biomedical Engineering has said, it is our responsibility as educators to “empower our students to be independent learners and fearless in the face of complex problems.” That is our goal in the College of Engineering, and this is how we will fulfill our mission to produce graduates who are well prepared to enter and assume leadership roles in the profession.

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