UTPA engineering program wins honorable mention in national competition
Posted: 12/03/2004
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Two engineering faculty members from The University of Texas-Pan American were part of a six-person team who received an honorable mention award Nov. 16 for The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Curriculum Innovation Awards.

Dr. Miguel Gonzalez, associate professor of engineering and associate dean of the College of Science and Engineering, and Dr. Douglas Timmer, assistant professor of engineering, developed the innovative academic course in conjunction with four faculty members from Michigan State University (MSU) and The Instituto Tecnologico de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (ITESM) in Mexico.

Pictured are award winners Dr. Miguel Gonzalez (left) and Dr. Douglas Timmer (right).
"I think the award reaffirms to the students that they are receiving a quality education at UTPA and that we are being recognized on a national level," Timmer said.

The team tied with Stanford University and the University of Virginia which also earned honorable mention awards, beating out 32 other teams across the country. University of South Florida won the top award.

"It's really a high honor to be on an equal boat with Stanford," Gonzalez said. "Also, considering the importance and esteem of ASME, it's a great achievement."

The award was established to reward innovative curriculum designs, teaching and learning methods in engineering and technology education.

The innovative course MSU and UTPA submitted for review addressed the issues of globalization, dispersed design teams and the lagging amount of engineers being educated in the United States.

The engineering education program was named International Networked Teams for Engineering Design (INTEnD) and was initially created in 1998 by educators at MSU and various international campuses.

The current expanded INTEnD program, presently an academic course at UTPA, MSU and ITESM, studied how engineering product design teams function while operating in dispersed, multidiscipline, multicultural environments, according to Gonzalez.

Teams of students are required to produce both an engineering design and lessons on effective practices for dispersed teaming. Teams consist of engineering students who are responsible for the product design; telecommunication students who study the various types of communication tools used in dispersed engineering teams; and anthropology students who study how barriers such as cultural differences, power and trust among the dispersed team members impact the performance of the group.

Team work, adaptability for mass customization, final product design, and an assessment of the impact of cultural diversity on the team and the product are parts of the judging criteria for each submission. The innovation must also demonstrate a significant advancement in engineering education and have the potential for significant impact on meeting the changing needs of the engineering profession.

"This is a course we designed to meet the needs of modern manufacturing," Timmer said. "We felt the experience was something students weren't getting in their regular coursework."

Gonzalez said the department is trying to stay on the leading edge and prepare students to be the best engineers possible and to contribute to the industry as quickly as possible.

"Professions are constantly changing and in order to stay accredited, the engineering department must continuously improve," Gonzalez said. "Innovation is the key to improvement."

Since its inception the program has taught 135 engineering students, 43 anthropology students, and 21 telecommunications students from MSU and 57 engineering students from UTPA how to function on internationally dispersed teams. Students took part in the course via interactive video sessions which were administered once a week and taught by alternating professors and local business owners at each of the participating universities. Additionally, 47 engineering students from various collaborative institutions around the world have also participated in the program.

Timmer said many UTPA engineering graduates, who have taken the course in the past, have advanced in their jobs and are managing international projects within their first year, which is unusual for entry-level engineers.

"The award confirms to students the quality of education they are receiving at UTPA," Timmer said. "Past graduates have quickly progressed in their careers, indicating that their employers appreciate and value the knowledge and experiences from this course."

The INTEnD program was made possible through a grant from the National Science Foundation program - Partnership for Innovation - and by assistance from the McAllen Economic Development Corporation.

For more information about the INTEnD program, contact Gonzalez at 956/381-2673.