UB - University at Buffalo, The State University of New York Chemical and Biological Engineering

Actions to Improve the Program

In the text that follows we describe actions that were taken to improve the CE educational program. The process through which these actions emerge is schematically represented by Loop IV of our continuous improvement process. The actions are presented chronologically, so that the reader can better appreciate the sequence of events.

Curriculum revision (2000-2006)

Immediately following our 2002 ABET review we continued the PEO and PO review processes that were initiated in 2000, and the findings ultimately led to substantial revisions to the curriculum. The first phase of this process involved the gathering of information from our constituency regarding the suitability of our PEO and PO. Specifically, the following actions were taken to solicit feedback

  • 2000 alumni survey. A curriculum-changes survey was distributed to solicit feedback regarding several proposed changes to the curriculum. Alumni were asked to consider several specific curriculum changes and to express their opinion via responses of “Yes do it”, “No, don’t do it”, or “No opinion”. Opportunity for open feedback regarding their educational experience at UB was also provided.
  • 2002 alumni survey. A survey was sent to the classes of 1994, 1997, and 2000 to solicit opinion regarding the relative importance of various topics. Alumni were presented with a detailed list of Program Educational Objectives and were asked to indicate the importance of each to their career (response of “Useless”, “Helpful”, or “Necessary”) and the effectiveness of instruction at UB (response of “Poor”, “OK”, or “Great”). Opportunity for open feedback regarding their educational experience at UB was also provided.
  • 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004 senior exit survey. The senior exit questionnaire included a curriculum-changes survey similar to that distributed to the alumni in 2000 (see above). Again, seniors were asked to consider several specific curriculum changes and to express their opinion via responses of “Yes do it”, “No, don’t do it”, or “No opinion”.
  • 2002 industry focus group. We invited several representatives from local employers to participate in a discussion regarding the CE educational program at UB. A significant portion of the meeting was devoted to solicitation of the participant’s opinions regarding the CE Program Educational Objectives and Program Outcomes. This activity included gathering feedback related to specific aspects of the curriculum as well as opportunities to comment generally on the curriculum.

The second phase of the PEO and PO review and revision process predominantly involved CBE faculty. The information gathered from our constituency was reviewed at a faculty retreat in December 2004. A decision was made that substantial modification to the curriculum was necessary, and the Undergraduate Studies Committee was tasked to draft a new curriculum. Over a series of six extensive meetings and numerous intermittent correspondences a new curriculum was drafted. This curriculum was presented to the faculty at a meeting in September 2005. The faculty generally liked the draft curriculum and accepted it as a basis to work from. At this point six thematic subject areas were identified and faculty subcommittees were formed to review how the draft curriculum addressed each of these areas. The subject areas included (1) thermodynamics; (2) physical chemistry / materials; (3) transport phenomena / unit operations; (4) laboratories; (5) design / control / systems engineering; (6) bioengineering. The subcommittees were tasked with identifying weaknesses of the draft curriculum with respect to the given subject area. The subcommittees met during September and October of 2005 and reported their findings at a faculty meeting in November 2005, after which minor modifications were made to the draft curriculum.

During the third phase of the process we again solicited the opinion of our constituency. Specifically, in December 2005 we held two five-member focus groups that included representatives from local employers of our graduates. At these meetings the curriculum revision plans were explained and the participants were invited to provide feedback regarding the draft curriculum. In general the participants were pleased with the curricular revisions that were proposed and suggested that the draft curriculum be implemented with minor modification. These modifications were subsequently implemented.

The fourth phase of the process required obtaining approval for the new curriculum from the university. A curriculum revision proposal was submitted in January 2006 and subsequently reviewed at the decanal level by the SEAS Academic Programs Committee and at the university level by the University Undergraduate Curriculum Committee. Following a few minor modifications the curriculum was approved and presented in the 2006-2007 Undergraduate Catalog.

We are currently in the fifth phase of the process: implementation of the new curriculum. The first cohort of students subjected to the new curriculum started in Fall 2006, and are on a track to graduate in Spring 2010. An important sixth phase, focused on evaluation of the impact of the new curriculum on the extent to which our students attain our Program Outcomes and our graduates achieve our revised Program Educational Objectives, will be completed in the future.

Development of assessment tools (2006-2008)

Following the curriculum revision, we recognized that we would benefit significantly from a system to quantitatively assess student performance. Without such a tool, tracking the influence of the new curriculum on student competence within select subject areas as well as student attainment of our Program Outcomes would prove difficult. As a result, during the summer of 2006 we set out to develop a series of web-based tools to assist with course management, student performance assessment, and program evaluation. During this summer SEAS invited a consultant to assist with the School’s preparation for the 2008 ABET review. We took this opportunity to verify that the framework that we envisioned (we were still in the planning process during the consultant’s visit) was consistent with ABET guidelines. Our efforts were also aided significantly by the addition of Dr. Andrew Schultz to our department. Dr. Schultz possesses web programming and database management skills that have proven invaluable to our effort. A description of the web-based tools developed and an illustration of their implementation is provided elsewhere.

Technical communication [2004-2007]

In response to repeated inputs from constituencies we undertook a concerted effort to integrate technical communication through the curriculum. This effort was performed in close cooperation with the SEAS Center for Technical Communication, and was taken on as a three-year pilot for a school-wide integration effort. We developed a sequence of technical communication activities spanning courses from the sophomore to the senior year. A specific course was identified in each semester, and technical communication activities were developed for use in that course (the courses are CE 212, CE 304, CE 327, CE 328, CE 427, CE 428). At the end of the three-year-pilot program Ms. Pneena Sageev, director of the SEAS Center for Technical Communication (CTC), provided a report that discussed the successes and failures of the program and provided recommendations for future efforts to embed technical communication within the CE curriculum.

Pre-, co-, and post-requisite tool (2007)

Following introduction of the new curriculum, we aimed to provide students, advisors, and faculty with a clear understanding of how courses within the curriculum are connected. We developed an interactive web tool that enables one to clearly visualize the pre-, co-, and post-requisites associated with a given course. The tool shows an outline of the courses within the curriculum in the “flowsheet” format. When a user places their mouse over a given course identity the pre-, co-, and post-requisites for that course are shaded with unique colors that clearly differentiate them. We feel that these diagrams provide a useful representation of the role a given course plays within the CE curriculum.

CBE Faculty Advisor Management (2007)

At a “Lunch with the Chair” session students pointed to deficiencies in the CBE faculty advisement procedures. In the former approach students were randomly assigned to a CBE faculty member upon joining the program. Students learned of their advisor by visiting the departmental office and asking one of the support staff, who consulted a hand-written log of the student-advisor mappings. Students indicated that they wanted more flexibility in choosing their advisor and a better mechanism to learn of their advisor.

In response to this feedback, we developed a new system that attempts to balance a student’s interests and background with faculty expertise and load. For the new system, a student is first directed to our CBE Advisor Assignment website. A web application asks the student to supply their last name and the last four digits of their person number. If the student has already been assigned an advisor, the applet reports the advisor’s name and contact info. If an advisor has not been assigned, the applet requests responses to the following four questions

  1. Are you currently working towards completion of, or are you interested in pursuing, one of the program tracks offered by the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering? If so, please select the track.

    <Responses: No track, Biological Engineering, Materials Engineering, Process Engineering>

  2. Check if you are a transfer student (at least one year completed at another institution)

    <Check box provided>

  3. You may select up to three faculty members whom you would prefer to have as your advisor. Select them here in order of decreasing preference, or skip to the next question if you have no preference.

    <Three drop-down boxes are provided>

  4. If there is a faculty member whom you do not want to have as your advisor, you may indicate that here.

    <A single drop-down box is provided>

Based on these responses and a faculty member’s current and maximum advising loads, a “faculty suitability value” is calculated for each faculty member. The student is then assigned to the faculty member with the highest suitability value.

Next, the web applet informs the student which CBE faculty member has been assigned to them and provides the related contact information. Also, the student is provided the following “quick tips”:

Quick tips about advisement:

  • CBE students are encouraged to see their advisor at least once per semester, preferably prior to registration for the subsequent semester.
  • It is good practice to schedule an appointment with your advisor prior to meeting with them.
  • When seeking advice regarding coursework, you should bring an updated copy of your “flowsheet” to meetings with your advisor. Flowsheets can be obtained from either 410 Bonner Hall or 303 Furnas Hall.

For more detailed information about advisement, please see the Undergraduate Advisement page from the Chemical and Biological Engineering website.

Finally, an email is sent to the CBE faculty member to inform them that a new student has been assigned to them. One of our support staff is also cc’d on the email – this individual places a copy of the student’s flowsheet in the faculty member’s mailbox for reference.

In addition to developing a new scheme for advisor assignment, we now provide faculty with more information about their advisees that can assist in the advisement process. Each semester the Director of Undergraduate Studies (DUS) extracts student information from the university’s central database that is subsequently incorporated within our own database system. This information includes the secondary majors or minors the student may be pursuing, the student’s level (sophomore, junior, senior), the number of transfer hours that the student has completed, and the student’s GPA. Faculty can now logon to the password-protected section of our undergraduate improvement website and follow a link that provides this information. In addition, each semester the DUS emails the students to remind them to organize meetings with their CBE advisors and sends the faculty a related email to alert them of any information pertinent to advisement that semester. These emails are typically sent before the first registration window opens for the subsequent semester.

EAS 230 revision [2007-08]

Based on feedback from faculty of various departments within SEAS, the content of EAS 230 Higher-level Language was modified significantly in Fall 2007. The course evolved from addressing programming in C++ only to a more general computing and numerical methods course. Students are now exposed to programming in C++ and Matlab, and programming activities are now carefully combined with application of numerical methods for solving common computational problems (e.g. root finding, optimization, first-order ordinary differential equation, etc.). Responsibility for implementation of the course has been shifted from the Department of Computer Science and Engineering to the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering.