Case Study - NSF Grant

by elaffey

The National Science Foundation recently awarded an Improving Undergraduate STEM Education grant (DUE 14-32426) to Prof. Maria Garlock (Civil and Environmental Engineering, Principal Investigator), Dr. Evelyn Laffey (Council on Science and Technology, Co-Principal Investigator), and Dr. Aatish Bhatia (Council on Science and Technology, Senior Personnel). The multi-institutional award involves Princeton University, Virginia Polytechnic and State University (Prof. Cris Moen, Principal Investigator), and the University of Massachusetts - Amherst (Prof. Sanjay Arwade, Principal Investigator) in collaborative research and programming that aims to advance the dissemination of the creative art of civil/structural engineering. More about the project… 

CASCE 2015 Participants

Recent reports from the Office of the President of the United States and the National Academy of Engineering urge the nation to increase student retention in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and to educate a STEM-literate populace. Uninspiring introductory courses, poor teaching, and lack of effective dissemination of best-practices are major obstacles that stand in the way of achieving these goals. Faculty members from Princeton University, Virginia Tech and the University of Massachusetts Amherst are partnering on a project entitled "Advancing the Dissemination of the Creative Art of Structural/Civil Engineering" with the aim of overcoming these obstacles through supporting the dissemination and implementation of an introductory civil engineering course that is to be enhanced with research-based pedagogy.

The main objectives of the project are to: (1) transform introductory engineering courses with dramatically improved interactivity and accessibility for non-STEM students; (2) ensure that the course takes a form that can be readily adopted into the engineering and general education curricula of many types of institutions of higher education (e.g., undergraduate institutions, research universities, etc.); and (3) facilitate dissemination, adoption, and continuous improvement of the courses beyond the audience already being reached.

These courses emphasize the creativity of the engineer along with the technical content. They demonstrate that engineering design involves “discipline and play”, a term popularized by Professor David Billington, where discipline refers to technical skills, and play refers to creative and aesthetic exploration.

Structural Art can be approached from a various avenues that will appeal to fields of study other than engineering. Structural art can be interpreted on scientific, social, and symbolic grounds.

  • Scientific: How is the structure designed to safely transmit loads to the ground and what materials are used?
  • Social: What are the short and long-term costs of the structure to society? What role does the structure play in the functioning of society?
  • Symbolic: What feelings does the structure inspire? What meaning does the structure carry for people interacting with it?

The outcomes of the project hold potential to advance knowledge regarding the effect that perceptions of engineers as "technicians" (as opposed to creative artists) has on STEM attrition and attraction; challenges and successes in teaching introductory engineering courses in institutions of different cultures and curricula; and strategies for supporting the successful adoption of an innovative course across diverse institutions.

Members of the Council on Science and Technology serve as Co-PI (Evelyn Laffey) and part of the management team (Aatish Bhatia and Joseph Capizzi). Their main responsibilities include: leading project evaluation; supporting the infusion of evidenced-based teaching practices into the targeted courses; and providing administrative support for the annual workshops for faculty.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. NSF 14-32426, 14-31717, and 14-31609.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in the materials provided are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Braid Theory/Tesselations

Tesselations are another interesting mathematical concept, related to how well can we pack objects in an area, for example, squares and triangles. Another typical tesselation that happens naturally are hexagons. In certain braids where we pick bunches of hair a hexagonal pattern would appear naturally. Mathematicians are still now trying to figure out possible tesselations for different shapes, and maybe some of those could find their way onto a hairstyle!

Braid Theory spherical geometry

Our possible hairstyles would change a lot if our head was flat! Cornrows (attached to the head) need to follow certain rules of spherical geometry. For example, there is a mathematical theorem known as “hairy ball theorem” (n.a. The theorem;s name has sexual innuendo but that’s how it’s called…) that says that you can’t comb the hair on a sphere without getting a “cowlick” or a “whirl”. Or course our heads aren’t spheres full of hair, the face in particular is (usually) hairless, so we can do cornrows like this.