New NSF Grant Helps Kick-Start Engaged Learning Group

Jan. 14, 2008

by Frank Raczkiewicz

A new $145,000 grant just received from the National Science Foundation will allow one of Baylor University's newly established Engaged Learning Groups (ELG) to take a giant step forward.

The ELG on "Energy and Society: The Costs and Benefits of an Energy Dependent Society" led by Dr. Ian Gravagne, assistant professor electrical and computer engineering, Dr. Kenneth Van Treuren, professor of mechanical engineering and Dr. Larry Lehr, senior lecturer of environmental studies, explores different topics related to energy. The majority of the grant money will buy new equipment needed for the ELG, like a fully computerized fuel cell unit and a steam turbine, which can produce electricity. The equipment also will be used in advanced engineering classes.

"This equipment will allow us to teach the ELG more effectively," Gravagne said. "These students have to mathematically manipulate expressions related to energy and understand the first and second laws of thermodynamics. Like an auto class working on a car, this equipment will allow us to offer students a hands-on experience needed for research."

Attempting to bridge the gap between education and research, ELGs provide undergraduate students the opportunity to become part of an academically, socially nurturing learning and research environment. The students explore important interdisciplinary topics for at least three semesters with a team of faculty members who have a varied array of expertise. Residential in nature, the freshman women in any given ELG live together on a floor of Collins Residence Hall, and the freshman men live together on a floor in Penland. Sophomore ELG participants may opt to live together in the North Village. The students also get one credit per semester.

"ELGs allow students to study topics that couldn't be fully explored in a one semester class," said Tiffany Hogue, assistant provost at Baylor who spearheaded the program. "They allow for increased faculty-student interaction and emphasize undergraduate research. The learning that takes place and the relationships that are created between students and faculty are extremely beneficial."

In Gravagne, Van Treuren and Lehr's ELG, the students - with diverse majors ranging from engineering to theater arts - pick certain energy topics that interest them. For instance, one group of students is exploring how much energy is saved when roof-top gardens are installed. The Waco Chamber of Commerce recently announced they were installing a roof-top garden on their new building headquarters in downtown Waco. The students must present a proposal, build a roof-top garden and study its effectiveness.

Each ELG involves a maximum of 49 students across multiple disciplines.

For more information, contact Dr. Gravagne at (254) 710-6659.

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