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Eric Burkholder

An Evidence-Based Approach to Chemical Engineering Education

Auburn University

Event Details:

Monday, April 11, 2022
4:00pm - 5:00pm PDT


(In Person) Room Shriram 104

This event is open to:


Eric Burkholder, Ph.D.
Department of Physics
Department of Chemical Engineering
Auburn University

Abstract: An Evidence-Based Approach to Chemical Engineering Education
We tell undergraduate students that chemical engineers can do anything because we teach them to be good problem-solvers and prepare them for future learning. Indeed, our students go into all sectors from finance, to academia, to pharmaceuticals and beyond. No curriculum could be expected to train students in all of these areas, so how do we equip students to transfer the skills they learn to solve novel problems in drastically different domains? More fundamentally: what does transferable expertise in problem-solving even look like, and how would we even begin to measure it? Using scientific methods to answer such questions is at the core of the emerging field of chemical engineering education research. To begin to answer these questions, we first identified a set of decisions made by expert scientists and engineers as they solve authentic problems. We then developed an assessment to measure how well students are able to make decisions and reason like experts in the context of chemical engineering design. Pilot-testing of this assessment has revealed key expert/student differences that we are using to design instructional interventions aimed at teaching problem-solving more effectively.  In designing these interventions, we also draw on our studies of demographic performance gaps (which, in reality, are gaps in students’ preparation) in large introductory STEM courses to ensure that we are teaching these skills equitably and preparing all students to succeed in their future careers. 

Dr. Eric Burkholder is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Physics and Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Auburn University. Eric received his B.S. in Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering from Cornell University, where he was the recipient of the George C. Scheele Outstanding Junior Award, the award for Outstanding Undergraduate Research in Chemical Engineering, and the Simmons Prize in German Studies. Eric went on to get his Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from the California Institute of Technology, studying the physics of active soft-matter with John Brady. His postdoctoral work was conducted with Nobel laureate Carl Wieman on a broad range of issues in physics and engineering education. Current research projects include measuring adaptive expertise and problem-solving, reform of chemical engineering laboratory courses, psychometric analysis of physics assessments, student preparation and diversity, statistical modeling of knowledge gains, and representational fluency in physics and engineering.

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