Fairfield University receives grant to put new top-notch teaching tools in School of Engineering students' hands



Image: SOE labThanks to a $50,000 grant from the Earl and Hilda Brinkman Family Foundation, Fairfield University's School of Engineering will soon be purchasing additional state-of-the-art laboratory equipment to help students master the fundamentals. "This is hands-on equipment," says Jack Beal, Ph.D., dean of the School of Engineering. "You hook it up, turn it on and learn from it."

The new teaching tools will include a suite of innovative computers and computer simulation software. Along the way, the lab equipment will help students learn about all facets of engineering, including electrical, computer and mechanical engineering, and prepare them for careers in biomedical, digital communications and software design, among other industries. The equipment is for students' use and is not faculty research equipment, adds Dr. Beal.

The grant helps to address the need for undergraduate-accessible equipment to introduce and illustrate engineering concepts and phenomenon in their beginning and middle years. "It's not enough to just have lectures and teach theoretical knowledge in the field of engineering," said Dr. Beal, the project's director. "You must have real-world lab equipment that will show the student how this knowledge gets manifested in real hardware."

The School of Engineering is continually looking for new and creative approaches in which to introduce engineering topics to undergraduates in their majors, and in courses such as Fundamentals of Engineering I & II. This need is particularly critical early on when engineering students are working to connect theory from the classroom with real-world laboratory experiential learning.

Computer simulation software is one of the new tools. This kind of software is becoming more and more realistic and useful particularly for the design phase of a project for essentially all engineering disciplines.

Image: C SiegelOne equipment package will include wireless communication apparatus. This will help to teach electrical engineering and computer engineering majors. Wireless technology is an expanding area of engineering that can be applied to a large number of disciplines - from biomedical applications to digital communications to network systems. All of these equipment packages will be interfaced with existing computers so that students can accumulate real data and analyze the data with available software packages such as MatLab.

Other equipment packages will include stress, strain, and elasticity measurements of materials under test and rotational-torsional test equipment with various load cells. They will greatly help with teaching mechanical engineering. These items will support teaching and learning in an enhanced materials science and materials testing laboratory with emphasis on testing under dynamic or time-varying conditions. In so very many dynamic systems, various components are rotating and hence under these torsional or twisting loads. This equipment provides students with the means to test various materials - brass, steel, aluminum - under these torsional load applications.

The funds will also be used to purchase a suite of new computers to replace and upgrade those in one of the School's computer labs. These new computers will provide improved learning outcomes for engineering students, particularly with respect to high-speed graphics capabilities.

A 2010 Earl and Hilda Brinkman Family Foundation grant also helped the School upgrade its lab equipment. "It is vital to keep up with teaching technologies as they get more and more sophisticated," Dr. Beal noted.

The Earl and Hilda Brinkman Family Foundation also awarded a $5,000 grant to Christine Siegel, Ph.D., associate dean of the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions at Fairfield. It will support Dr. Siegel's ongoing research into ADHD. Her research has concerned "Parenting Stress in Mothers of ADHD Adolescents: Conceptual Model and Interventions." It is anticipated that participants will benefit from their involvement in a study by acquiring knowledge and skills that address their stress related to parenting an adolescent with ADHD.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on September 22, 2011

Vol. 44, No. 45