Minority-focused Engagement through Research and Innovative Teaching (MERIT)

Texas A&M University-Kingsville (TAMU-K) enrolls over 7,000 students with 73% underrepresented minorities. TAMU-K is the only research comprehensive, residential based campus in South Texas in an economically depressed area. The national need for science and engineering education are well-documented in high profile reports such as “Rising above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future”, which was published in 2007. The report highlights several impact areas that need to be addressed, which are still issues today. High among these is sustaining and making the United States the most attractive setting in which to study and perform research through recruiting, retaining and developing the best and brightest students, scientists and engineers from within the United States and throughout the world.

Core Activities in MERIT

1) Developing engaging learning modules : There is strong evidence that design of hands-on activities and entrepreneurial thinking can increase students’ interests in STEM areas. Thus, four STEM faculty members will be recruited with the aim of developing engaging learning materials that can be used for mentoring and tutoring first to-year engineering students. Twenty academically accomplished junior or senior engineering students will be recruited as student mentors each year (preference will be given to minority students and women). The faculty will work with student mentors to develop engaging materials focused on addressing difficult concepts in first two-year college bottleneck courses impacting at least 200 students each academic year. Bottleneck freshman and sophomore STEM courses have been identified to address in the first year are: Calculus I, Chemistry I, Physics I, and Statics and Dynamics. Engaging modules for other STEM bottleneck courses including Calculus II and University Physics II will be addressed in the second and third years of MERIT.

2) Mentoring the mentors: Student mentors will be trained by the STEM faculty mentors on how to mentor and tutor first two-year students. Student mentors will also receive continuous mentoring and training from the faculty mentors with an aim to:
(a) build skills in understanding and facilitating the learning process.
(b) assist mentees on improve their study skills in STEM areas.
(c) facilitate minority students’ growth and confidence in their abilities to study and succeed in engineering.

3) Engaging peer mentoring and tutoring: Through weekly group meeting, face-to-face personal tutoring, student mentors will provide peer mentoring and tutoring to first two-year students using the developed engaging learning modules. The aim will be to:
a) gain better understanding of fundamental concepts;
b) understand application of these fundamental concepts from bottleneck courses in engineering. In addition, student mentors will also help first two-year students to:

  • adapt to the culture change of learning how to learn and assess what they do and do not understand
  • adjust to the campus environment and use various campus resources
  • engage in formal and informal student learning communities.

Research has shown strong evidence of success that peer mentoring and tutoring along with formal and informal student involvement and engagement has a positive effect on student success and persistence.

Summer Research Program (SRP)

A three-week summer research program will be offered to TAMU-K students in their freshman or sophomore years who have actively participated in the EMT program and to community college students in South Texas. The SRP aims to provide academic preparation to first two-year college students with focus on difficult principles and concepts in first two-year college STEM courses identified in each department through project-based learning. Twenty student participants in SRP will be selected through a selection process as SRP trainees. There will be five teams each year with each team comprised of four students. Each of the five teams will be supervised by a TAMU-K STEM faculty member and mentored by a SRP Student Mentor who will be selected from student mentors in the EMT academic year program. The SRP trainees will complete a research project related to first two-year college bottleneck courses within three weeks. The research projects will be designed by TAMU-K faculty to incorporate entrepreneurship components. Each team will be required to prepare a poster, presentation, and report. These will be made available to all TAMU-K students and faculty through the Blackboard online platform. Exposing undergraduate students to research projects early in their academic career has been demonstrated, with strong evidence of success, to improve student-persistence.

MERIT SRP Projects

PROJECT 1.
Title: Chemical Process Simulation (Chemical Engineering)

Faculty Advisor: Chongwei Xiao
The purpose of this program is to introduce and interpret chemical processes by chemical process simulation with commercial software-Aspen HYSYS. The knowledge and skills required for chemical processes will be integrated to understand the open-ended design problems. This program introduces students to methods and background needed for conceptual design of continuously operating chemical plants. The basis of interpreting chemical processes, the principal diagrams that routinely used describe chemical processes, including the block flow diagram (BFD), the process flow diagram (PFD), and the piping and instrumentation diagram (P&ID), will be introduced. A comprehensive design project a chemical process will be practiced. The skills, including considering questions of process integration, controllability, and optimization in the development of a process engineering design, will be practiced.  While your design may resemble commercially practiced processes, it must also exhibit understanding of many issues, which must be considered before a proposed new chemical plant would be approved by industrial management.  Physical feasibility, while obviously essential, is only one of these issues. Many new processes are never commercialized because they are not economically attractive.  In most cases, there are several physically feasible routes to a product, and comparisons of alternatives must be made. 

PROJECT 2.
Title: Design and Optimization of Active Disassembly using Smart Materials (Mechanical/Industrial Engineering)
Faculty Advisor: Hua Li
Active disassembly is one of the disassembling methods by which the product will be automatically disassembled under a particular trigger. This is one of the effective methods to improve the recycling efficiency and reuse rate of complex products, such as electronic and electrical products, and to reduce the environmental impacts caused by hazardous substances during recycling processes. In this project, the students will design and manufacture a prototype to showcase the active disassembly concept using smart materials, i.e. shape memory polymer. The design parameters will be further optimized to reduce the disassembly time.

PROJECT 3.
Title: Wind Mill and Wind Farm Design (Mechanical/Industrial Engineering)
Faculty Advisor: Kai Jin
This project will introduce the basic knowledge about wind energy. Students will work on the wind turbine design using Lego package and other materials. Then students will use the wind mills to set up a wind farm to test and understand the wake effect. After this project students will understand the main factors affecting the energy output.

PROJECT 4.
Title: NanoChem (Chemistry)

Faculty Advisor: Jingbo Liu
This project will provide learning materials for students to gain the fundamental knowledge in chemistry which will enhance their skill and competitiveness to pursue careers in STEM fields. This project will also provide hands-on experience for students. It will focus on the solar-hydrogen fuel cells composed of nanocatalyst. The students will be trained to understand Nano-science, which is knows as a final frontier. Nanoscience is the chemistry sub-discipline; in its continuous research mission to deal with strange exciting fields; to seek out the new approaches and new applications; to innovatively explore the small world where there is plenty to tackle; and to effectively solve the anthropogenic problems induced by new technology. The applications of nanomaterials, ranging from solar panel used in the space shuttle to atomic reactor (converting CO2 to carbohydrates). The mechanism of behind the phenomena, the “Redox blue”, a chemistry song will why the hybrid vehicle takes you from home to school.

PROJECT 5.
Title:  Understanding and Measuring Physical Quantities in Athletic Performance (Physics)
Faculty Advisor:  Dr. Edward Butterworth
This project will give the student participants the opportunity to learn to describe the performance of athletic tasks in terms of physical quantities: acceleration, force, power, momentum and their rotational analogues. Every movement of the body can be analyzed in terms of these basic physical quantities, and while a thorough understanding of the activities would involve knowledge of human anatomy and physiology as well, there is plenty to be learned from the basic physics.  How many people know that if an athlete--even one of small build--leaps into the air and lands on one foot, the force on that foot will be several hundred pounds?  Yet this is something that is relatively easy to determine with a few measurements and photographs.  The exercise of making these measurements, doing the calculations and drawing the appropriate conclusions is a fruitful one.

General approach.
Students will measure, weigh and time athletes performing basic exercises including running, weight lifting, plyometric and other exercises.  They will then analyze the data thus obtained, and calculate quantities that cannot be directly measured, and construct a complete physics-based description of the activity in question.The planning stage of each activity will involve identifying the athlete, the sport, the specific activity or movement under consideration, and the methods used to obtain the data and analyze it.Athletes will be recruited from those who will be training throughout the summer.  I will seek to recruit an equal number of male and female athletes, from different sports and of different body types, to provide a wider range of athletic activities to examine.

Some Possible Athletic Activities to Consider.
Ideally, many different types of activities should be examined, from relatively simple ones in which the measurements and calculations will be fairly straightforward, to complex ones in which estimations and approximations will be necessary.

Photographic strategy.
Place small pieces of tape (shiny reflective tape would be particularly good) on the athlete's knees, hips, shoulders and elbows.  Measure the distances between these "fiducial points" at the outset.  The activity can then be digitally photographed and downloaded to a computer, and the measured distances used to calculate the other motional variables.

Vertical leap.
No running start: the athlete drops into a crouch position, then pushes off against the floor in the vertical direction.  Once he/she leaves the floor, the athlete is in free fall, reaches a maximum height that depends only on the takeoff speed and the acceleration of gravity, and returns to earth.The student will make the following measurements: the athlete's height and weight, the depth to which the athlete sinks into the crouch, the height to which the athlete's center of mass rises above its neutral position, and the time involved in the leap.  The last part could be done more precisely with a digital camera rather than hand timed with a stop watch.  Students will study several different athletes, and will record several athletes performing the task.Next, the students will analyze the data.  They will perform statistical analysis, as well as calculate several quantities that cannot be measured directly: the force with which the athlete pushes against the floor for the takeoff; the net external work done during the leap; and both the peak and the average power.  They must then show that their calculations are consistent with what is known about this activity.

Power Squat.
The athlete takes the barbell on his or her shoulders, drops into a deep knee bend until the thighs are parallel to the floor, then drives out of it to return to a standing position with knees locked out.  Important quantities to be measured are the athlete's height and body mass, the mass of the barbell, the distance traveled by the barbell, the distance traveled by the athlete's center of mass, the speed of the ascent.  To a first approximation, the lifter's speed (after the initial bounce) can be treated as constant, but a closer inspection (using digital photography) will show a complex pattern of motion.

Bench Press.
The athlete takes the barbell from the rack, lowers it to the chest, then pushes it up until the elbows are locked.  Important quantities to be measured are the athlete's height and body mass, the mass of the barbell, the distance traveled by the barbell,  the speed of the ascent.  Because the mass of the athlete's arms are a relatively small fraction of body mass, motion of the center of mass need not be considered.

Deadlift.
The barbell is at rest on the floor.  The athlete grabs it and returns to an upright position with shoulders back and knees locked out.  Important quantities to be measured are the athlete's height and body mass, the mass of the barbell, the distance traveled by the barbell, the distance traveled by the athlete's center of mass, the speed of the ascent.   Sprints (distances to be determined).

Throwing events
These, of course, are complicated, and considerable skill will be required to analyze them properly.

Procedure after gathering data.
The data must be analyzed in a manner that leads to sound physical insight into the activity in question.  Digital videos may be downloaded to computers, played one frame at a time, and data points recorded and measured.  This information can then be used to calculate quantities that include forces, work, energy and power applied by the athletes, along with biomechanical efficiency.  I recommend doing this in two stages. First, calculate the fundamental physical quantities in the most basic manner, using the simplifying assumptions generally invoked in introductory textbooks.  Thus, ignore air resistance and treat only the large scale motion of the body.  So for the jumper, calculate the takeoff speed from the maximum height of the jump, then calculate the acceleration and force necessary for the jump, the work done by the athlete on the environment in making the jump, and the athlete's peak power output.  Second, look at the details.  Locate, as best as possible, the positions of origin and attachment of the major muscles involved in the activity.  Take into account the change in angles as the athlete goes through the movement, and calculate the mechanical efficiency at each stage of the movement.  Use these to determine the internal forces applied, and the internal work done by the athlete.  Convert it to calories.

PROJECT 6. Title: Modeling Real World Problems With Trigonometry (Mathematics)
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Aden Ahmed

1. Length of Day in Kingsville: For the particular latitude of Kingsville, the students will record the length of day for the various days of the year (there are websites for this), then they will use the data to draw a scatter diagram and determine the sinusoidal function of best fit. Finally, students will use their model to answer various questions concerning the length of the day in Kingsville at a particular time of the year.
2. Tides: Data from a tide table are used to build a sine function that models tides.
3. Waves: Wave motion is described by a sinusoidal equation. The principle of superposition of two waves is discussed.
4. Project at Motorola Sending Pictures Wirelessly: The electronic transmission of pictures is made practical by image compression, mathematical methods that greatly reduce the number of bits of data used to compose the picture.
5. The Lewis and Clark Expedition: Use trigonometry to calculate the total distance traveled by Lewis and Clark during their expedition.
6. Locating Lost Treasure: Clever treasure seekers who know the Law of Sines are able to efficiently find a buried treasure.

This page was last updated on: April 18, 2016