NSF-Step 1B: CASCADE Project

Cascaded Mentoring And Design Experiences (CASCADE) seeks to increase the number of well-qualified engineers for South Texas. Project strategies focus on implementation of design experiences throughout the engineering undergraduate curriculum with linkages to Javelina Innovation Laboratory to provide access to authentic design projects. This will be overlaid with an innovative cascaded mentoring program to support student success. Initially, CASCADE will pilot the curriculum implementation of design experiences in the civil engineering (CEEN) and mechanical engineering (MEEN) departments, and will subsequently expand to include the chemical and environmental engineering departments (CHEN and EVEN, respectively).

The overall goal of CASCADE is to increase the quantity, quality, and diversity of TAMUK students who successfully earn an engineering baccalaureate degree. Building on TAMUK’s STEP 1A project outcomes and institutionalization efforts, CASCADE will engage engineering students in design exercises and experiences throughout their academic undergraduate careers, and provide student support in an innovative configuration of cascaded peer-mentoring. Incorporation of engineering design experiences across the undergraduate curriculum with linkages to the university’s engineering innovation laboratory for access to industry projects will contribute to increased student retention and persistence to graduation.

Intellectual Merit: CASCADE will offer a fundamental freshman exposure to the design process, provide vertically aligned design experiences through the sophomore and junior year, and bring added engagement and understanding to the senior capstone design experience through interaction with industry and peers involved with TAMUK’s Javelina Innovation Laboratory. Exposure to these curricular design experiences will be wrapped in a supportive layer of peer mentoring to promote student success.
Cascading Vertically: Undergraduate seniors will mentor juniors, juniors will mentor sophomores, and sophomores will mentor freshmen. This STEP project will be piloted in four undergraduate engineering programs in the TAMUK Frank H. Dotterweich College of Engineering (i.e., mechanical, civil, chemical, and environmental).

CASCADE Objectives

1. Infuse concepts of the design process across all four levels of the engineering undergraduate curriculum (i.e., freshman through senior)
2. Increase first-year, second-year, and third-year retention of engineering undergraduate students to 78%, 68%, 62%, respectively
3. Raise the 6-year engineering undergraduate graduation rate to 54%. CASCADE will be led by Engineering faculty composed of PI, Dr. Selahattin Ozcelik, Co- PIs Dr. Mohamed Abdelrahman, Dr. Francisco Aguiniga, Dr. Kim Jones (PI of STEP 1A); and Dr. David Ramirez, whose combined expertise and experience are well sufficient to successfully implement the CASCADE program. Goals are in-line with facilities and available resources.

Broader Impacts:

 As a predominantly undergraduate teaching and Hispanic Serving Institution, TAMUK will broaden impact via this STEP Type 1B by advancing discovery on retention of underrepresented (Hispanic) engineering students, while promoting teaching, training, and learning. The cascading peer mentoring will also broaden participation, and dissemination of the model will benefit other engineering programs. CASCADE will benefit society, with the design component and industry involvement via the Javelina Innovation Laboratory enhancing scientific and technological understanding by engineering graduates of TAMUK. Involvement of engineering faculty researchers will also connect research to undergraduate education and theory to relevant design experiences linked to industry problems or concerns, particularly that have an overall impact on the largely Hispanic public of the region and state of Texas. National dissemination will provide for implementation by other majority minority campuses, and those with or seeking large Hispanic enrollments.

PROJECT PLAN

CASCADE seeks to increase the number of well-qualified engineers for South Texas. Project strategies focus on implementation of design experiences throughout the engineering undergraduate curriculum with linkages to JIL to provide access to authentic design projects. This will be overlaid with an innovative cascaded mentoring program to support student success. Initially, CASCADE will pilot the curriculum implementation of design experiences in the civil engineering (CEEN) and mechanical engineering (MEEN) departments, and will subsequently expand to include the chemical and environmental engineering departments (CHEN and EVEN, respectively).

Objectives, Baseline, and Benchmarks

Objective 1: Infuse concepts of the design process across all four levels of the engineering undergraduate curriculum (i.e., freshman through senior).
Comprehensive studies of engineering programs suggest that incorporating the design experience throughout the undergraduate’s academic career will not only better prepare the students for their senior capstone design project, but will help build their identity as engineers and better prepare them for professional practice. Research points to several contributing factors which play a role in improving student learning during engineering design experiences, including the impact of active,project-based, and hands-on learning methodologies, and the development of a sense of community and a peer support network. Cooperative learning approaches that are hands-on and interactive are particularly appealing to underrepresented students. First-year engineering design was highlighted as one of six key areas in engineering education innovation at the 2011 ASEE Annual Conference. Pioneered in the 1990’s and implemented in several NSF Engineering Education Coalitions, incorporating a design experience into the first-year curriculum is still not mainstream. However, numerous institutions have successfully implemented freshman design experiences into the curriculum and found improvements in student retention and six-year graduation rates. Also, though not a widespread practice, various institutions have incorporated design experiences into the sophomore and/or junior-level engineering curricula.

Objective 2: Increase first-year, second-year, and third-year retention of engineering undergraduate students to 78%, 68%, and 62%, respectively.
CASCADE will utilize the strategies of peer mentoring to create the Cascaded Mentoring program, and design competitions to increase retention rates. Peer mentoring is a documented strategy that supports student retention, providing benefits for both the mentee and the mentor. It can be particularly effective for minority students who often have a scarcity of role models. Renowned retention specialist, Vincent Tinto, noted in his book, Leaving College, the importance of mentoring during the freshman/sophomore year. The mentors can unobtrusively monitoring the progress of their students, both academically and in a social context as well.  The design competition strategy is based on educational research, indicating that cooperative learning techniques provide advantages such as improved student accomplishment and enhanced self-esteem and social skills. A cooperative learning structure can encourage and enable other students to succeed. In this environment, a team’s success is the success of all students on that team.

Objective 3: Raise 6-year engineering undergraduate graduation rate to 54%.
Exposing students to industry-based projects s via the TAMUK JIL will serve as the project strategy to increase the six-year engineering graduation rate. CASCADE will provide opportunities for student involvement in JIL-related activities and projects, which will help build their identities as engineers; moreover, it will better prepare the students for professional practice. The JIL addresses the nation’s needs by providing a young cadre of engineers with the experience and drive to innovate in nearly all of the fourteen “Engineering Grand Challenges.” And because TAMUK is a HSI in a predominantly Hispanic region, it provides a mechanism to encourage more young Hispanic students to enter or remain in one of the engineering (or other STEM) disciplines; thus, broadening participation in engineering fields. Since some reports and studies suggest a national rate near 55%, CASCADE will target a six-year graduation rate of 54% by project end.

This page was last updated on: April 18, 2016