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EFP Professors Publish Paper on Engaging Students in Homework

Dr. Richard Bennett and Dr. Rachel McCord of the Engineering Fundamentals Program, along with former graduate research assistant, Wenshu Li, and former Director of the Tennessee Teaching and Learning Center, Taimi Olsen, publish a paper together for the June 2018 issue of the American Journal of Engineering Education.  Engage Engineering Students In Homework:  Attribution of Low Completion and Suggestion for Interventions, was published on the results from the NSF grant Increasing Student Engagement in Homework.


Engage Engineering Student In Homework:  Attribution of Low Completion and Suggestions for Interventions

Know Your Engineering Fundamentals Lecturers: Rachel McCord

Rachel McCord and Her Dog

McCord and her dog, Mabel

Rachel McCord is a UT alumnus with a degree in mechanical engineering, so she has a lot of love for Knoxville and the university. She was even a student in Engineering Fundamentals (EF) as an undergrad and taught EF as a graduate student. Her experiences in those classes were what made her want to pursue education as a career to be able to contribute back to the program that was so influential to her career.

McCord loves helping students right when they enter UT to build the skills necessary to be successful in their degree. She enjoys working with students as the figure out what engineering is and find their passion for a specific discipline. In her mind, EF is important because “it gives you the opportunity to learn how to be a life-long learner, which is so critical to being an engineer.”

Below, we asked McCord a few specifics:

Q: How do students succeed in class and make you proud?

A:  “Don’t get discouraged by grades! They are just numbers. One grade will not define you. Instead, let your desire to be an engineer define you. If you focus on learning the principles we are trying to teach you, the grades will be there. Promise!”

Q: Do you have any favorite students?

A: “Aww…now that’s not fair! I guess my favorite students are the ones that come to my office to chat or say hi in the hallways between classes. Anytime I get a chance to learn someone’s name and a bit about them, they become a favorite. Also, I have candy in my office if you stop by!”

Q: What’s your biggest pet peeve of students?

A: “Getting emails requesting extra credit the day before grades are due at the end of the semester. **sigh*** what’s done is done!”

Q: How do you spend your free time?

A: “I do a lot with my friends at church, Fellowship Church. I also have two dogs, Mabel and Amos. I like taking them to the dog park and the fun dog-friendly activities in Knoxville.”

Know Your Engineering Fundamentals Lecturers: Will Schleter

Will SchleterDistinguished Lecturer Will Schleter’s journey to UT began after he accepted a job at the Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge helping them move from paper drawings to computerized design. When working for the government got a little old, Schleter was offered an opportunity to teach Computer Aided Design part-time at UT. From there, he discovered a passion for teaching and working with students.

When the college’s Engineering Fundamentals (EF) program was created, he started teaching EF and has, in his words, been torturing students ever since. No, but really, he truly enjoys teaching EF because it gives him the opportunity to help students get their start. He says it’s as much a challenge for himself as it is for the students.

Below we asked him a few specifics:

Q: Where did you get your undergraduate degree?

A: “I received a BSME in a previous century from the University of Missouri-Rolla, which is now Missouri S&T. It’s a small engineering school that allowed me to escape my hometown of Greenfield, Indiana.”

Q: How can students succeed in class and make you happy?

A: “Not just in my classes but in general, be excited and proactive about learning. Embrace the challenge and learn to work hard and efficiently. Get involved with student societies and groups. Take advantage of co-ops or internships to get some experience and try not to lose sight of your goals.”

Q: What’s your biggest pet peeve?

A: “How many can I list? Stickers that don’t come off. Students that don’t do homework. Egocentric people. Students that don’t do homework. People who repeat things in lists for emphasis. Students that don’t do homework…”

Q: How do you spend your free time?

A: “I like sports and being outdoors. I’m still trying to learn how to hit a golf ball consistently. I am continually maintaining and updating my house, I dabble in woodworking and 3D printing at home, and I’m trying to design and build an electric riding lawnmower.”

Richard Bennett at Panda Base

Get to Know Your EF Staff: Richard Bennett

Richard Bennett is the director of the college’s engage Engineering Fundamentals program. He came to UT because he felt it had a good balance between teaching and research and because of the great people he would come to call his coworkers. He enjoys being able to help a new group of young engineering students get off to a good start every year. He believes that Engineering Fundamentals is important because it is “the beginning of your educational career, and the concepts we teach are used in so many areas.”

Bennett’s favorite student is his daughter, but he believes all other students are equal and a privilege to teach. We asked him a few specifics to help freshmen students settle in at UT:

Q: Where did you get your undergraduate degree?
A: I received my Civil Engineering degree from Cleveland State University.

Q: How can students succeed in class and make their professors happy?
A: The best advice I can give is to keep up with the homework, and to get in a study group with a few of your peers.

Q: What’s your biggest pet peeve of students?
A: Students who do not check their work. Take a few seconds to look over your answer and whether or not it makes sense.

Q: How do you spend your free time?
A: With my family and friends. I have two grandchildren who love wearing Vols attire. My wife and I also have friends in Chengdu, China, where we visited this summer to see the Panda Base.

This Q&A is part of a series we’re rolling out to help UT engineering students get to know the Engineering Fundamentals staff in the college.

Engage Engineering Fundamentals Lecturer Spotlight: Amy Biegalski

Amy Biegalski in the Mountains with Her Children

Amy Biegalski—or “Dr. B,” as she is known to her students—came to UT because of her love of teaching and her love of the outdoors. She enjoys teaching Engineering Fundamentals (EF) classes at UT because of the “enthusiasm, energy, and dedication” of the students. According to Dr. B, EF is vitally important because it introduces students to real-world problem-solving, diverse perspectives, and team-based hands-on experiences. Her favorite students are those that ask thoughtful questions, feel confident enough to call her out on her mistakes, and stop to chat with her about their individual passions and pursuits.

We asked Dr. B a few specifics to help freshmen students get to know here a bit better:

Q: Where did you get your undergraduate degree?
A: I received my Civil/Structural Engineering degree from Ohio State University.

Q: How can students succeed in class and make their professors happy?
A: Make use of all available resources, show up, contribute to the discussions, complete assignments, and enjoy the challenge.

Q: What’s your biggest pet peeve of students?
A: Students who don’t show up for team meetings. Where is the love?

Q: How do you spend your free time?
A: Taking my two girls on adventures: exploring mountains and parks, hiking, biking, backpacking, skiing, and rock climbing.

This Q&A is the first in a series we’re rolling out to help our students get to know the Engineering Fundamentals staff in the college.

Makers Club Helping Turn Student Ideas Into Reality

A recently formed club at UT has provided students with an outlet to bring their ideas to life via a mix of traditional and cutting-edge manufacturing methods.

The Makers Club began last semester with the goal of bringing together students and faculty interested in the makers movement, a group united by the idea of people learning and maintaining practical skills that were once common but are now in danger of being lost to machine automation—such as welding—and to developing skills in cutting-edge techniques such as 3D printing.

The Makers Club focus on turning ideas into reality is attracting students from various majors across campus.

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Million-Dollar Idea Helps Fulfill Tennessee Promise


A new program designed to help Tennessee’s community college students better navigate the transition to the University of Tennessee has gained $1 million in support and recognition from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Following the establishment of the Tennessee Promise program, which provides two years of free community college to the state’s students, faculty members in UT’s Tickle College of Engineering met to come up with a plan to accommodate transfer students and position them for success in the college.

The team focused on the five-year graduation rate for engineering transfer students—71 percent, compared to 85 percent for traditional students who enter as freshmen.

“Transfer students face a unique set of challenges compared to traditional students,” said Materials Science and Engineering Professor David Keffer, leader on the project. “We sought to develop a program, based on input from many directions, to create an experience for transfer students which addresses well-identified academic and social obstacles to successful completion of their degree.”

From those meetings, TranSCEnD—Transfer Success Co-Design in Engineering Disciplines was born. The initial NSF grant lasts through 2022, when it will come up for renewal based on the plan’s success.

The team is working on a program that covers all five years of the students’ experience at both institutions. Chris Wetteland, a lecturer in materials science and engineering, is developing a summer research program to improve the transitional experience, while Rachel McCord, a faculty member in the college’s engineering fundamentals program, is developing methods to improve student success.

“These elements will maximize the benefit of the state’s investment in its future via Tennessee Promise,” said Keffer. “Once we demonstrate that the TranSCEnD program works here, we will share it with other institutions.”

TranSCEnD members considered other factors facing transfer students in comparison to traditional students who enter the program as freshmen. Among their findings, they learned that transfer students:

  • are almost twice as likely to be first-generation students
  • have more than double the unmet financial need of traditional students
  • face stresses over class sizes and communication with faculty
  • often find it challenging to become a part of peer groups, some of which have already worked together for two years

The goal is to increase support for transfer students to bring retention and graduation rates to a comparable level with those of traditional undergraduates.

The TranSCEnD team’s efforts now involve Tickle College of Engineering staff, researchers, and administration; UT’s admissions office; and faculty from Pellissippi State Community College. More than half of the students transferring into the college completed their associate’s degree at Pellissippi State.

Fall Engineering Fundamentals Projects

EF 152 fall semester teams participated in a semester-long team project developing and building an innovative new toy. The students’ work was showcased in a November Toy Fair where they were reviewed and ranked by professors and peers in different categories based on their product prototype, marketing videos, and poster talks. Toys ranged from Apps, to board games, to sporting equipment.

EF 152 students also enjoyed a surprise visit from Dean Wayne Davis this semester. Dean Davis and industrial engineering junior Adam Larkey treated students to a rollicking rendition of “Rocky Top” for our Physics of Sound lecture. Check out the video of Dean Davis and Adam performing “Rocky Top” below.

Watch the Video

EF 230 Projects Featured on Instructables Site

Train ProjectAs part of the documentation for student projects from Amy Biegalski’s EF 230 class, students can create an “Instructable.” is a website for sharing step-by-step instructions for DIY projects. Six student teams were awarded a spot on the site’s featured page.

EF 230 students have two large projects. One is to use an Arduino or Raspberry Pi microcontroller to create a smart train device, which students demonstrate using a model train. The other project is to transform an iRobot Roomba robot into a Mars Rover that uses sensors and data obtained from a live video feed. In both projects, students develop  code in MATLAB.

Links to the instructables of the following winning teams are below:

“Students are learning both design and programming with the projects,” said Richard Bennett, professor and director of the engagetm Engineering Fundamentals Program. “I would like to recognize Amy for her vision and creative teaching, Will Schleter for his helping to set up a lot of things so the projects would work, and the students who have really done a great job with the projects. I think this fits in with the design theme we are working on in the TCE.

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