Faculty Perspective: Impact of EERC on Engineering Education

Faculty input has driven the vision for the EERC. Professor Kristin Wood, who chairs the EERC Interdisciplinary Teaching Committee, sat down to discuss that vision and its impact.

Rendering of the Engineering Education and Research Center

The teaching labs in the EERC will feature maximum flexibility of space and large open areas for innovating, interdisciplinary project-centered teaching and student-led project design teams.

The Engineering Education and Research Center (EERC) is the highest priority in the Cockrell School of Engineering's Master Facility Plan. At nearly 420,000 gross square feet, the center will support new interdisciplinary research initiatives and provide teaching space that will transform engineering education.

Faculty input has driven the vision for the center, and how it should best serve faculty and students as well as become a leader of engineering education. Interdisciplinary Teaching Committee Chair and Mechanical Engineering Professor Kristin Wood sat down with the Cockrell School to discuss that vision and its impact.

Tell us about your role in planning for the Engineering Education and Research Center (EERC) and how long you've been involved?

I am the chair of one of the committees for the EERC, the Interdisciplinary Teaching Committee. The charge of this committee is to:

  • Identify a representative overview of current interdisciplinary teaching examples in the School.
  • Look to peer institutions with similar challenges and determine if they offer a meaningful interdisciplinary curriculum.
  • Create or propose interdisciplinary teaching that can be developed while the EERC is under construction and then implement once the building is ready.
  • Use this information to inform the programming and design of the EERC space for interdisciplinary research.
Kris Wood

Kris Wood

Our committee, which includes faculty from all engineering disciplines, began meeting in August 2010 and will work through the spring of 2011.

The EERC is part of the greater Master Facility Plan for the Cockrell School. As a faculty member, what would you say is lagging in our current facilities and what, if anything, must be done to improve them?

The Cockrell School of Engineering, in many ways, has developed leading and innovative programs at the national and international levels. To support the advancements in teaching, student-centric learning and research, our facilities must always evolve and advance to implement our programs, tap into the recognized talents of our faculty, connect and prepare students for the 21st century and link with the global, national, regional and local communities. The EERC provides an avenue to make these evolutions and advancements, especially for our work in interdisciplinary teaching, which seeks to develop and deploy hands-on, active-learning and project-centered approaches to teaching.

How critical is this improvement to how well we recruit top faculty and educate future engineering leaders?

These improvements as targeted by the EERC design are absolutely critical to the vision, teaching and research of the Cockrell School of Engineering. A facility such as the EERC will be a showcase for the School and The University of Texas at Austin. It will be a place for empowering the engineering faculty and students and fostering interdisciplinary work across the university. It will enable the recruitment and retention of top faculty and education of future engineering leaders through state-of-the-art facilities and architectural design to create scholarly communities.

What is different in the style, feel and layout of the EERC versus all other engineering buildings on campus?

The EERC will provide a space and environment that are open, filled with natural light, populated with innovative tools for teaching and research and serve as a magnet for faculty and students to have natural forums for linking in new and exciting ways.

What are you hearing from your students about the EERC? Is the center something they want or say they need? What about with faculty?

In my role as chair of the Interdisciplinary Teaching Committee, I have interviewed hundreds of faculty and students regarding the vision and plans for the EERC. I find an excitement and enthusiasm for the EERC far exceeds my expectations. The faculty and students in the Cockrell School of Engineering fundamentally love UT and their experiences on campus. These faculty and students see the EERC as an enabler to express these feelings and provide endless opportunities for future generations of the Cockrell School community.

Are there any misconceptions about what this building is or is not?

There are always misconceptions when taking on an endeavor as grand and far-reaching as the EERC. At a basic level, the EERC combines the facilities for the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department (ECE) and the interdisciplinary facilities for teaching, research and student organizations. Due to this combination, there exist natural perceptions of how the facilities will balance the needs of a department such as ECE and the more global and pervasive needs of interdisciplinary efforts across the Cockrell School. The dean and associated leadership of the Cockrell Scholl have provided fabulous direction to balance these needs and realize the potential and vision of the EERC.

You joined UT as a faculty member in 1989. In your experience, how has engineering education changed in the 21st century and what must the Cockrell School do to remain competitive with other top schools?

I could spend a day with you answering this question. Engineering education has seen revolutionary change in the last 20 years. Scholarly work in engineering education, at the national and international level, has grown much like a wild fire in nature. There are well-respected conferences, journals, symposia, workshops and special interest groups in engineering education across the world. Fundamental advancements have been achieved in pedagogy, tools and methods to support faculty and students, long-distance learning, technology in the classroom, and methods to assess, evaluate and dynamically improve engineering education at all levels. We stand on the frontier of change in engineering education that is unprecedented. The 21st century will see student-centric learning based on active-learning techniques, project-centered techniques and interdisciplinary teaching approaches. The Cockrell School already has many leaders as we advance into this frontier. The EERC will provide the facilities and infrastructure to empower these leaders and create a vibrant and exciting community of scholars in engineering education, all to the benefits of our students in the Cockrell School and across the university.

The Interdisciplinary Teaching Committee includes Dr. David Allen, Dr. Hal Alper, Dr. Gary Hallock, Dr. Desmond Lawler, Dr. Mark Mear, Dr. Laura Suggs and Dr. Sherry Woods.

To learn more about the Engineering Education and Research Center, visit the Cockrell School's Master Facility Plan webpage.

Engineering Education and Research Center