UMass Amherst Professor Surita Bhatia’s Curriculum Featured in Report by National Academy of Engineering

AMHERST, Mass. - A professional development curriculum created by Surita Bhatia, professor of chemical engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, is one of 29 articles selected by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) to appear in an upcoming report, "Infusing Real World Experiences into Engineering Education." Bhatia’s new curriculum deals with "Incorporating Diversity Education into the Engineering Curriculum: How Do We Train Students to Work in Diverse Teams?"

The NAE publication will highlight best practices for recognizing real-world problems in engineering coursework and introducing practical solutions. The report will be distributed to all engineering deans and department heads nationwide and to several major engineering employers.

"The goal of this project is to incorporate diversity education into the required chemical engineering curriculum," Bhatia says. She has expanded the junior year ChE 391A Professional Seminar, which currently focuses on professional ethics, ethics in engineering decision-making, and career paths for chemical engineers, to include substantial diversity content.

Bhatia was also one of approximately 40 engineering faculty members nationwide selected for the inaugural NAE 2009 Frontiers of Engineering Education symposium in Washington, D.C. because of her efforts in the areas of professional development and diversity training of engineering students.

One objective of Bhatia’s new course material is to raise awareness about diversity in the engineering workplace among chemical engineering students by stressing the current low percentages of women and minorities there and the challenges they face. The added material also educates students about institutional policies and personal skills, including communication styles, negotiation styles, and management styles, which facilitate diversity in the engineering workplace.

Part of this new curriculum includes first-hand accounts of the serious workplace issues faced by professional engineers from underrepresented populations. "We have prepared a series of lectures and discussions on this material," says Bhatia, "and will invite female and minority guest speakers in to discuss their career paths."

Since the original implementation of this curriculum in ChE 391A, Bhatia has developed similar professional development modules for students in the NSF-funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates program in Cellular Engineering, the NSF-funded IGERT program in Cellular Engineering, and the NIH-sponsored PREP program for post-baccalaureate students.

In preparing the NAE report, engineering deans and faculty members were invited to submit nominations of exemplary programs for covering real-world material in courses. Ninety papers were submitted and an NAE advisory committee, consisting of both industry and academic members, selected the top 29 to include in a printed guide to be disseminated in the spring of 2012.

After the report is distributed, the NAE will gather feedback from deans regarding institutional impediments to adopting the showcased models, as well as ways of overcoming those barriers.