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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 first-year 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 first-year students get to know her 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 first-year students.

“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 first-year students. 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.

Student at the Engineering Fundamentals Ladies Night

Ladies Night in the Innovation and Collaboration Studio

This year, we hosted our first workshop series geared towards teaching basic workshop and maker skills to ladies in the EF program. The intention of the program was to give Engineering Fundamentals program ladies a safe place to learn hands-on skills, meet other ladies in the program, and build something for their personal use.

Over two nights, 23 ladies participated in our Fall workshop, led by Michael Allen, on building a wooden trinket box. During the workshop, participants had the opportunity to use the miter saw, drill press, scroll saw, sander, and assorted hand tools. Due to the overwhelmingly popular response, we held ladies specific workshop nights in the spring on laser cutting and 3D printing.

The Math Behind Vols Perfect Play

Pierce Anderson, a freshman in the college, ran the math behind Josh Dobbs’ improbable last-second game-winning touchdown pass to Jauan Jennings. 

“I decided to calculate the optimal velocity for the pass for a few reasons,” Anderson said. “Primarily, we were learning about projectile motion in EF 151 at the time of the game, so it was fresh on my mind. Due to a football pass exemplifying this concept, I came up with the idea soon after the game. I decided to write out and solve the problem as a sort of fun joke so I could tweet it.”

After he checked his math to make sure everything was correct, he posted his findings on Twitter where Josh Dobbs retweeted his work. 

“I definitely did not expect the massive response I received,” said Anderson. “I was hoping for some sort of interaction from Dobbs, but I thought it was very unlikely.”

After Dobbs responded to him on Twitter, local NBC affiliate WBIR picked up his story and featured him on their evening news broadcast. 

“The WBIR interview was even more surprising, but I was thrilled to do it,” Anderson commented. “I was very excited that my fun equation was enjoyed by so many, including Dobbs himself.”

Watch an interview with Anderson.

Students in the Engage LLC Visit ORNL and MABEline

The 2015-2016 school year was very exciting in the Engage/RISER LLC. This year, approximately 189 students lived in the Engage/RISER LLC in Morrill Hall. Our advisory board, consisting of student RA’s, EF faculty, and staff, as well as representatives from UT Housing planned a number of great events for students to participate in.

Over two semesters, we hosted ten study parties in the dorm to help students get prepared for the upcoming EF exams. There was lots of studying, great questions, and approximately 150 pizzas consumed at these study parties throughout the year!

Engage/RISER LLC Students visit ONRL's Manufacturing Demonstration Facility and hold the 3D printed Shelby Hood signed by President Obama

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

In the fall semester, forty students took a tour of Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility. The LLC students had great questions for the scientists and engineers they interacted with on the tour.

Engage/RISER LLC students meet MABEline, a synthetic cadaver produced by SynDaver. UT's College of Engineering is the first in the world to have such a device.


In the spring semester, several LLC students had the chance to visit MABEline, one of the only synthetic cadavers in the world used to teach engineering students about the human body. It wasn’t all business! EF staff and faculty had fun playing in a video game tournament with students in Morrill Hall.

McCord Invited to Prestigious National Academy of Engineering Event

A member of the Tickle College of Engineering faculty will have a chance to shape engineering education, thanks to an invitation from the National Academy of Engineering, the premier engineering group in the United States.

Rachel McCord, a lecturer in the college’s Engineering Fundamentals Division, was selected to attend the NAE’s seventh Frontiers of Engineering Education (FOEE) symposium in Irvine, California, October 25–28.

There, she and other engineering educators selected from nominations given by deans and academy members will get together to discuss research, teaching techniques, and ideas.

For McCord, the chance to attend the symposium with other leading engineers is an honor but also an opportunity provided by nominations from Tickle College of Engineering associate deans Masood Parang and Veerle Keppens.

“This symposium will be a great chance for me to get to talk with and get feedback from other educators about a project I’m working on for engineering student success,” she said. “Several of the attendees listed also do work in that area, so this symposium could lead to potential collaborations in the future.

“It will also be a great opportunity to hear about what others are working on in order to bring back some innovative techniques to use here at UT.”

McCord and the other participants were chosen by the NAE for “developing and implementing innovative educational approaches.” McCord has a background in engineering education, giving her particular insight into the symposium.

After sharing concepts and approaches, they will return with an agreed-upon charter to implement those changes at their home institutions.

“Faculty not only need to update their course content but also their delivery approach so as to better engage today’s students,” said Darryll J. Pines, dean of the A. James Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland and chair of the FOEE Advisory Committee.

McCord’s position within the college puts her in a key position to bring about that change.

The Engineering Fundamentals Division, and particularly its Jerry E. Stoneking engage™ program, connects with students in their freshman year—the prime moment to influence their later success.

“My hope is that this symposium will help me further develop the work I’ve been doing in supporting engineering student success in the first year,” said McCord. “That way, our EF students can be academically successful throughout their entire career here at UT.”

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