Faculty Placed 1st in ASEE ECCNED Best Paper Award

POSTED ON: September 1, 2022


Image of Professor Ben Davis being awarded at the ASEE ECCNED.

Over the summer, Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering Amanda Simson and Professor and Ensminger Chair of Chemical Engineering Ben Davis won 1st-Place Best Paper Award from the American Society of Engineering Education’s (ASEE) Energy Conversion, Conversation, & Nuclear Engineering Division (ECCNED). The award comes with a $300 prize and award certificate.

Their paper on “A Sustainability and Alternative Energy Course as a Bridge between Disciplines” derived from the 2019 Dean’s Innovation Grant Program – a grant program at the Albert Nerken School of Engineering that advances one or more approved Core Values or Strategic Plan of the school – where professors Simson and Davis co-taught a course on Sustainability and Pollution Prevention, which lead to the surveying of students and submitting a paper on results from the survey. 

Read more about the research here.

Knowledge of sustainability, climate change, and environmental impact is far more important now than when engineering curricula were first created and refined in the early 20th century. Making room for these essential topics is an important part of how engineering as a course of study and as a profession navigates our current global pollution epidemic. This paper is on the assessment of a new interdisciplinary course on sustainability and alternative energy offered to Art, Architecture, and Engineering students at The Cooper Union, a small, primarily undergraduate institution. The course provides students with an introduction to sustainability and sustainable development, the basics of energy conversion and storage technologies, and life cycle assessment. As the problems of sustainable development are interdisciplinary, our goal was to attract a multidisciplinary group of students to inspire discussion and different ways of thinking around the political, cultural, and technical components of a near-zero carbon energy future. We demonstrate that students not only learned the material, but also gained a greater appreciation for the climate crisis and how to engineer for sustainability. Course content and structure was aimed to be as interactive as possible, including extensive in-class discussion activities as well as two large group projects where students presented their findings to the class. We intentionally incorporated content and student activities on social equity, environmental justice, and the unequal impacts of a changing climate. Assessment was via student course evaluations, where they reflected on the delivery methods of the course and what they learned. Student survey responses were overwhelmingly positive – students enjoyed the diverse cohort and set of topics, the focus on group work and active discussion via Zoom, and the projects (on a specific renewable electricity generation site and a life cycle assessment). Survey results show that Engineering students were initially more interested in course topics related to technology whereas Art/Architecture students were more interested in course topics related to cultural and political issues; however, after the course, student interest in these topics converged and there was no discernable difference in interest levels across course topics between the two cohorts. We show that students gained an increased appreciation for (and understanding of) both the science/technology and ethical trade-offs in energy system choices. Our assessments (via remote oral presentations, online quizzes, electronic homework, and recorded videos) found that students, regardless of discipline, met course learning objectives despite the limitations of a remote format.

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.