Photo of students working in Sears think[box]

Case Western Reserve University awarded AAU grant for undergraduate STEM education

Case Western Reserve University was among 12 members of the Association of American Universities (AAU) awarded grants today to further enhance undergraduate education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

The funding, supported by a five-year, $1 million grant from the Northrop Grumman Foundation, will fund specific departmental or college-wide improvements at the selected universities.

At Case Western Reserve, the Case School of Engineering is fundamentally changing how first-year students are taught by replacing traditional lecture-based courses with a new, signature, two-semester course sequence focused on active learning.

The program’s goals: to transform the engineering student experience and introduce engineering skills, the design process, professional development and communication skills.

“This AAU STEM grant will be used to expand curricular development and faculty engagement surrounding these new courses and to develop pilot courses,” said Kurt Rhoads, assistant professor in the Division of Engineering Leadership and Professional Practice and the Department of Civil Engineering, who is teaching the first pilot course. “The new program will be implemented as a required core sequence for all engineering students in fall 2020.”

Course breakdown

The first-semester course will consist of hands-on projects combined with data analysis and programming using MATLAB. Each project will be designed with a co-instructor with expertise from a different engineering field. Through this course, students will learn fundamental engineering skills as they build and test their own project, such as a piezoelectric crystal or a water sensor.

In the second-semester course, students will learn engineering design in the context of a semester-long project driven by community needs. Students will develop fabrication and design skills using Case Western Reserve’s innovation center, the Larry Sears and Sally Zlotnick Sears think[box], while also focusing on communication and professional skills.

“Ultimately,” said Donald Feke, vice provost for Undergraduate Education and Academic and Faculty Affairs and a professor of chemical engineering, “we expect this initiative will improve the experience of engineering undergraduates at Case Western Reserve, thereby improving student engagement and retention in STEM—particularly for women and underrepresented minorities.”

Among the other AAU members receiving STEM grants: Brandeis University, Emory University,  Georgia Institute of Technology and Washington University in St. Louis.

The network is part of the AAU Undergraduate STEM Education Initiative, a major project begun in 2011 to encourage STEM departments at AAU universities to use teaching practices proven to be effective in engaging students in STEM education and in helping students learn.

For more information, contact Bill Lubinger at