Active Grants:

Collaborative Research: NSF INCLUDES: An Integrated Approach to Retain Underrepresented Minority Students in STEM Disciplines, NSF #1649226, $117,349, PI: Suzanne Barbour, co-PIs: Juan Gutierrez, Michelle Cook, Joachim Walther, & Timothy Burg. September 12, 2016 – September 30, 2018.

The University of Georgia, Florida International University, Savannah State University, Clark Atlanta University and Fort Valley State University will lead this Design and Development Launch Pilot to address enhancing recruitment, retention, productivity and satisfaction of historically underrepresented minority (URM) undergraduate students who enroll in STEM graduate programs at primarily white (PWI) and research intensive (RI) universities. The collaborating universities will work together for the purposes of empowering URM students to more effectively navigate STEM undergraduate and graduate education at minority serving institutions (MSIs) and PWIs, and for transforming the culture of PWIs and RIs. The team plans to use evidence-based approaches to gain insights into cultural differences that impact the success of URM STEM students. Three interventions will be included in the pilot study: (1) undergraduate URM student exchanges between MSIs and PWIs, (2) collaborative inquiry to engage URM students in social science research about issues and experiences of under-representation in STEM, and (3) the adaptation of resources from the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning (CIRTL) to train STEM faculty to embrace diversity and improve teaching in diverse classroom settings. The project team plans to develop strategies to scale approaches and develop an alliance of institutions to maximize potential project outcomes.

Understanding and Reshaping Systemic Communication Patterns in Engineering Education, NSF #1531947, $338,174, PI: Nicola Sochacka, co-PI: Joachim Walther. January 1, 2016 – December 31, 2018.

Engineering faces persistent challenges in recruiting and retaining students, particularly from underrepresented groups. The field is often perceived as an arcane, highly technical domain, an image that studies show does not resonate with all potential students and does not do justice to the potential contribution that this profession could make to solve 21st century problems. In addressing these connected challenges, engineering educators and professional bodies have invested considerable efforts towards changing perceptions of the field through research and public information campaigns. This project is examining where these perceptions, or narratives, about engineering come from, and in what ways do they exert an influence on the culture and educational practices of the field. The project draws on theory from complex systems sciences and the field of media studies to empirically investigate how collective, self-definitional narratives implicitly and pervasively shape the shared beliefs, explanations, and values that underpin the culture of engineering. By identifying and describing such exclusionary narratives, the project lays the empirical foundation for future work aimed at empowering engineering administrators, educators, and students to reach beyond the confines of narrow and limiting narratives about engineering and broaden the conversation about what engineering is, could be, and who participates in the important societal role of the profession.

The Empathy Project: An Interdisciplinary Research Effort to Develop a Transferable Theory of Empathy in Engineering, NSF #1463829, $339,746, PI: Joachim Walther, Co-PIs: Shari Miller, Nicola Sochacka. August 1, 2015 – July 31, 2018.

The field of engineering will play a key role in addressing the complex, societal challenges of the 21st century that are characterized by technical aspects interwoven with social dimensions. In order for the profession to fully assume this expanding responsibility, universities and engineering educators are working towards transforming engineering programs so that they prepare students to effectively engage in these broad, multi-disciplinary challenges. This project contributes a crucial component to the social aspects of these qualifications through a focus on empathy that will allow future engineers to meaningfully consider social facets of engineering work, engage with a broad range of stakeholders, and understand the perspectives and needs of members of society. In this interdisciplinary educational research project, engineering education researchers are collaborating with social work education researchers. The field of social work contributes a longstanding history of purposefully developing empathy as part of students’ professional formation. The outcomes of this project will provide the evidence-base necessary to inform future efforts to broadly infuse empathy into engineering education.

CAREER: A Quality Framework for Interpretive Engineering Education Research, NSF #1150668., $451375, PI: Joachim Walther January 1, 2012 – December 31, 2016.

This engineering education research grant seeks to combine elements of the total quality management (TQM) movement from engineering with a framework for evaluating qualitative research that will be developed during the project. There is a need to be able to judge the results of qualitative research; this project will help achieve this goal. Additionally having a clearly delineated framework that draws from language familiar to engineers may help make qualitative research results easier to translate between research communities.

The broader significance and importance of this project lie primarily in building networks and capacity for research as well as being able to more broadly communicate research results. The proposed framework, if widely accepted, may serve in the education of graduate students. Additionally improving qualitative research techniques will help in studies of equity issues with under-represented groups in engineering. This project overlaps with NSF’s strategic goals of transforming the frontiers by making investments that lead to emerging new fields of engineering, or shifting existing fields. Additionally NSF’s goal of innovating for society is enabled by supporting the development of innovative learning systems.

“A Long Way Coming”–Understanding Engineering Educators’ Transformations to Student-Centered Teaching, NSF #1329300, $400,000, PI: Nadia Kellam, co-PIs: Kathleen deMarrais, Joachim Walther, Stephan Durham. August 15, 2013 – July 31, 2016.

Over the past decades, the engineering education community, with significant support from the National Science Foundation, has produced a large body of knowledge around engineering teaching and learning.  While these evidence-based educational innovations were targeted at increasing the number of STEM graduates prepared to meet society’s grand challenges, the widespread impact of this body of work on teaching practice remains limited.  This engineering education research project seeks to empirically generate a fundamental understanding of individual teaching transitions and actively disseminate the findings with the aim of fostering individual and institutional change. More specifically, the research team will conduct a qualitative research study that seeks to understand the process by which engineering faculty in the U.S. successfully transition from a traditional teacher-centered teaching style to an active learning student-centered teaching style.  The research team will interview 50 exemplar faculty from diverse US institutions and at varying stages of their academic career (early, middle, and late) that have transitioned to a student-centered teaching strategy, to elicit their personal narratives.

Past Grants:

Exploring methods to immerse students in real life learning in dynamicsUGA Office of STEM Education, $7,995, PI: John Mativo, co-PIs: Nicola Sochacka & Joachim Walther. August, 2015 – July, 2016.

The purpose of this educational innovation and research project was to create a sustainable and scalable model that will provide students with a theoretically-coherent and “real-world” understanding of the principles of engineering dynamics. At the same time, we sought to more broadly address the problem of “core”-related attrition through involving students in a novel approach to “peer-to-peer learning” across the sophomore to senior years of the CENGR undergraduate program.

An interdisciplinary initiative to educate for empathy as a core learning competency and professional qualification for engineering and STEM students, UGA Office of STEM Education, $8,997, PI: Joachim Walther, co-PIs: Shari Miller & Nicola Sochacka. August, 2014 – July, 2015.

In this study, we built on an existing interdisciplinary collaboration and pilot study to refine, implement, and systematically evaluate a set of four undergraduate teaching modules designed to integrate a context-relevant understanding of empathy into engineering education.

Building Creative Confidence in Mechanical Engineering Students through the IM Creative Studio, UGA Office of STEM Education, $9,000, PI: Nadia Kellam. August 19, 2013-July 31, 2014.

The IM Creative Studio was a portable design studio that enabled mechanical engineering students and instructors to engage their students in not only theoretical engineering design projects, but projects that are prototyped, built, tested, and redesigned; and to encourage these types of experiences early and throughout the curriculum. The project leader developed the IM Creative Studio to help Mechanical Engineering students begin to build their creative confidence and to combat the perception that engineering students are not creative. This project consisted of the design of the IM Creative Studio, the implementation of the IM Creative Studio in a 1st year design studio, a research component to gauge students’ creative confidence, and assessment strategies to assess student learning. The results will help to better understand strategies for increasing the creative confidence of engineering students.

Connected Ways of Knowing: Uncovering the Role of Emotion in Engineering Student Learning, NSF #1160350, $300,000, PI: Nadia Kellam, co-PIs: Joachim Walther and Tracie Costantino. August 15, 2012 – July 31, 2015.

There is increasing evidence that emotion impacts learning, yet these connections are not yet well understood. This engineering education research project sought to understand how students’ emotions play key roles in both learning engineering and their development of a professional identity. By examining connections between emotions and learning, this project has generated knowledge to inform the design of engineering degree programs which can connect scientific, technical, and social knowledge for the students.

Making Connections: A Theory of Synergistic Learning in Engineering Education; NSF #1025190, $400,000, PI: Joachim Walther, Co-PIs: Nadia Kellam, Tracie Costantino, Bonnie Cramond, and David Gattie. August 15, 2010 – July 31, 2013.

This engineering education research project investigated synergistic learning, the processes by which students integrate disparate aspects of learning into a coherent whole. The work was conducted in the context of the “Synthesis and Design Studios” in the environmental engineering program at the University of Georgia. The project sought to understand the mechanisms of synergistic learning and to integrate this understanding into a meta-theory that connects learning theory with engineering education. In particular, the project focused on understanding the “Ah Ha!?” moments when various fragments of knowledge fall into place. The project built on a strong collaboration between engineering and art education.

Reflection as a way of integrating student learning across Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, MATH + SCIENCE = SUCCESS Small Grants Program: Improving Instruction and Enhancing Student Success in STEM Disciplines, University of Georgia Office of STEM Education, $9000, PI’s: Joachim Walther, Nicola Sochacka, Nadia Kellam, August 2011 – August 2012.

This project consists of research on the effectiveness of an already implemented strategy to improve student learning and the implementation of the lessons learned in a second iteration of this strategy during the spring of 2012. In the spring of 2011 Drs. Walther and Kellam implemented a series of guided reflective focus groups in their Synthesis and Design Studio (ENVE 1010, 1020, and 2010). These reflective focus groups were based on a semi-structured SAID protocol (Situation, Affect, Interpretation, and Decision) to help students identify and make sense of transformational learning experiences. These critical learning incidents were elicited using a framework of emotional indicators. These triggers utilized descriptions of emotions that resonated with the students’ experience of the critical learning situation to provide students with concrete, intuitive access for their reflection. Based on the early successes of this approach, the present project empirically investigates the process and outcomes of these reflective activities.

“Hortisculpture”, ICE Project Development Grants, Ideas for Creative Exploration (UGA), $2500, PI’s: Maggie Horacek, Sculpture BFA; Clara Hoag, Ceramics MFA; A. Tzvi Izaksonas-Smith, Printmaking MFA; Susan M. Varlamoff, Director, Office of Environmental Sciences, Nadia Kellam, Professor, Engineering; Joachim Walther, Professor, Engineering; Isabelle Wallace, Professor, Art; Colin Kirk, Horticulture BA; Stuart Jones, Landscape Architecture MA.

Horticulture will combine the efforts of students and faculty in Art, Horticulture, the College of Environment and Design, and the Faculty of Engineering to create a sustainable public community garden from thousands of casts of human feet with plant seeds embedded in them.

“Exploring the role of empathy in engineering communication”, ICE Project Development Grants, Ideas for Creative Exploration (UGA), $500, PI’s: Joachim Walther, Shari Miller, School of Social Work.

This project draws on a collaboration between faculty from engineering and social work to develop a series of course modules to infuse communication empathy into an undergraduate environmental engineering course. The development of the instructional modules builds on research from the field of social work education which conceptualizes various ways of engaging student in authentic personal interactions. More specifically, the modules incorporate elements of group reflection, role play, and authentic stakeholder scenarios that are commonly employed in social work education. In this project, these methods are adapted to contemporary engineering perspectives around issues of sustainability, social justice and critical engagement with power relationships in engineering contexts.

The Synthesis of Engineering and Art for Innovative Education, NSF # 0837173, $149,999, PI: Nadia Kellam, Co-PIs: Tracie Costantino and Bonnie Cramond; January 01, 2009 – December 31, 2011.

This TUES project involved the design and implementation of the first year of the Synthesis and Design Studio, a cross-disciplinary studio with environmental engineering and art students. The research portion of this grant involved a case study and a pre/post test design and studied how engineering and art students’ creativity was impacted by participation in the studio. The following are newspaper articles, conference proceedings, and journal articles that have been published based on the above-described studio and a pilot studio that took place in the spring of 2009 [42, 61-65, 76-81]. The focus group protocol was fine tuned in this project and focus groups are still a part of the Synthesis and Design Studio as they contribute largely to student recognition of their own learning (metacognition).

Case-Based E-Learning for Solving Real-World Engineering Design Problems: Nurturing Epistemic Growth for Second Year College Students, NSF #0837340, $150,000; PI: Ikseon Choi, Co-PI’s: Nadia Kellam and David Gattie; March 01, 2009 – February 29, 2012.

This TUES project involves the design, implementation, and testing of a case-based web tool that aims to increase students’ epistemological understandings. This case-based web tool highlights an ill-structured problem that is presented through a video of the issue, expert interviews, and online content. The online case has been implemented into two courses and the first set of publications has been disseminated.

Exploring student development in the ‘third space’ between art and engineering, ICE Project Development Grants, Ideas for Creative Exploration (UGA), $2500, PI’s: Joachim Walther, Nadia Kellam, Tracie Costantino, Bonnie Cramond, 2010.

This project was set in the context of an interdisciplinary studio for art and environmental engineering students. The project focused on developing the theoretical concept of a third, interdisciplinary area of learning that emerges from, but transcends beyond the shared domains of art and engineering, a notion that surfaced as a new theme from the data collection and analysis in a prior research project. The work proposed under the ICE project aims at theoretically conceptualizing the idea of the ‘third space’.


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