Curriculum Changes Enhance Students' Multi-Disciplinary Options

3/15/2011 3:55:00 AM

Yeh Center
Yeh Center
Main quad, photo by Kalev Leetaru
Main quad, photo by Kalev Leetaru
By Dan Malsom
 
Undergraduate students in CEE now have a new primary area of study and three new secondary areas to choose from, thanks to a recent change in the curriculum. The new courses of study are part of an ongoing process to revise the CEE at Illinois curriculum to ensure that students receive a more multi-disciplinary education.
 
The primary area in Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure Systems and secondary areas in Sustainability, in CEE Multidisciplinary, and in Global Context will accompany the seven primary areas and seven secondary areas already available to students.
 
The department has approved custom secondary areas in the past similar to the new options, says Liang Liu, CEE associate head and director of undergraduate studies. The new areas of study add already-designed secondary areas to those previous custom degree requests and make them more easily attainable for any interested CEE students.
 
“These new additions to the CEE curriculum carry the innovative spirit and progressive attitude of faculty, students, and administrators in preparing our undergraduates to become leaders in the future,” Liu said.
 
The new areas of study allow students to take advanced classes outside of the CEE department as part of the area’s advanced technical course requirements without having to request approval, a departmental first. Classes offered in the schools of Architecture, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Economics, and Atmospheric Science comprise part of the new curricula.
 
Professor Amr Elnashai, CEE department head, said that the new areas of study reflect the future of engineering and how the engineering profession has changed.
 
“In today’s world, societal problems are not solved by structural engineers, not by environmental engineers either. It takes a systems approach by a whole group of engineers,” Elnashai said.
 
The new areas of study draw largely upon classes already present in the CEE curriculum, but with two new classes that will begin in 2012: Engineering for the Global Environment, and Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure Systems.
 
Faculty member Barbara Minsker played a key role in leading discussions that made the new programs a reality. Minsker headed a committee tasked with creating the new curriculum. The committee consisted of a professor from each of the seven CEE sub-disciplines and reported to a separate, five-member curriculum review committee. The new offerings were also reviewed thoroughly by the CEE Management Committee, a seven-member group that is responsible for the day-to-day management of the department. Minsker met with industry leaders to make sure that the new curriculum met both student and workplace needs, all while ensuring the satisfaction of accreditation requirements by ABET, the accreditation body.
 
“This curriculum was 18 months in the making…and went through many, many iterations,” Liu said.
 
These new areas of study serve as a reflection of how the CEE department wishes to adapt in the coming years, Elnashai says. While Illinois CEE students have advanced core competence and engineering problem solving skills, he says, they need to understand better how to integrate what they know from a systems perspective. The new systems primary, specifically, “is intended to be the focus of how we want to train our students in the future.”
 
“We are trying to see the light at the end of the rigorous training tunnel,” Elnashai said.
 
The CEE department also has begun to hire faculty members with interdisciplinary education and research experience, both inside and outside of civil engineering. As another measure, the CEE department has been looking into creating a new, integrative program.
 
“We are actually now building an organization within the department: a horizontal group that threads through all our traditional seven areas,” Elnashai said.
 
The new Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure Systems organization will draw educational help from every current primary area of focus in CEE. In addition, Elnashai said that he hopes to charge a committee within the organization with the duty of creating a new graduate degree in the same subject.
 
“This new primary is not an isolated action,” Elnashai said. “This is part of a whole series of actions that embody our vision for the future of the department.”