Magana's NSF CAREER research aims to improve engineering education

Alejandra Magana, assistant professor of computer and information technology, has received a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award.

The $500,000 award, to be used over five years, will fund Magana’s research on identifying the best way to incorporate modeling and simulation practices into undergraduate engineering education. The official title of her award is “Authentic Modeling and Simulation Practices for Enhancing Model-Based Reasoning in Engineering Education.”

“Modeling and simulation skills, along with the use of domain-specific software, have become a new form of literacy in engineering domains,” Magana said. “The main gap I see is that there are computational and modeling skills needed in the science and engineering workplace, but students do not acquire them in an integrated way. They may get some initial exposure as part of a programming course one year and then apply those concepts three years later for a capstone course. The use of computing tools for analytical problem solving is not well integrated as part of an engineering discipline’s trajectory.”

As the basis for her research, Magana will learn from existing research in models and simulations in science education, which are typically designed for students in K-12. She will take these proven ideas and apply them, with her own modifications, to desired outcomes within individual engineering disciplines such as civil engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and materials engineering.

She has nurtured many partnerships with engineering professors that will facilitate access to students and provide test beds for her research. They have already collaborated on projects such as conference papers, consulting, and faculty development. Together, they want to take what they’ve learned at the graduate level and apply it to the undergraduate curriculum.

“In Technology research, we want our designs to have direct impact,” Magana said. “We will focus on identifying pathways for learning these skills, but at the same time we will conduct testing with these professors to make sure our designs work in a classroom setting. We have to make sure it is feasible to integrate these skills into a classroom, and we have to make sure it is having an impact on learning.”

In addition to her faculty partners, Magana will have several graduate students joining the project, who will bring their own disciplinary expertise and facilitate the integration of interdisciplinary research.

About CAREER Awards

The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is an NSF-wide activity that offers the Foundation’s most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and their integration within the context of the mission of their organizations.

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