ESED Research Award Winners Announced

April 6, 2020

We are pleased to announce that our ESED Outstanding Graduate Researcher award is shared this year by Dennis Lee and Kathy Ehlert.  We have so many excellent researchers in the department that the committee found it very difficult to make these decisions.  Kathy and Dennis are two of our senior researchers who will be graduating this academic year.

Kathy who joined the program in January 2016 is a member of Marisa Orr’s research group.  Kathy’s dissertation research is focused on engineering students’ perceptions on their learning during their co-op experience.  Kathy initiated the work herself based on her experience as a co-op student and mentor.  She wrote a successful grant proposal to help fund the research in part.  She also is taking a unique approach for engineering education research by using a Q-methodology, which is a mixed-methods approach that according to her nomination letter is “a combination of data sources including numerical rankings of prompts/phrases from participants and their responses to follow-up clarification questions.”  Kathy has also been deeply involved in several other research projects.  She has provided support to Marisa’s CAREER research project through her “fluency” in quantitative research.  Kathy has authored three papers and for several others served as a co-author to communicate research findings from the project.  She has also contributed to research on another NSF-funded project known as the SPRITE project or Student Perspectives on Researcher Identity and Transformation of Epistemologies.  One of the papers that she authored for SPRITE won Best Paper award from the Student Division of the American Society for Engineering Education.  Kathy was selected as one of two inaugural ESED Teaching Scholar Award for this academic year.  She is serving in her second semester as a Graduate Teacher of Record for ME 3060 Fundamentals of Machine Design.  Kathy has also served as an ESED senator for the Graduate Student Government and Senate Secretary and the Awards Chair on the Graduate Travel Grant Committee currently.  Kathy has also worked in the medical device industry.  She has a MS from Cornell University, and a BS from Case Western University, both degrees are in mechanical engineering.  Congratulations to Kathy!

Dennis Lee has been a member of the ESED graduate student body since the summer of 2016 and a member of Lisa Benson’s research group.  This semester, he defended his dissertation work and is currently teaching a section of ESED 8200 Teaching Undergraduate Engineering to help with an extra-large number of Certificate students this year.  Dennis’ dissertation research focused on the epistemic (aka the e-word) practices used by undergraduate students who are involved in inquiry-based courses and faced with new scientific information.  The goal for these learning environments is to simulate authentic scientific inquiry as much as possible.  Dennis’ research grew from his extensive experience in the classroom as a biology instructor at Tri-County Technical College before joining ESED.  He made connections at the University of Wisconsin Madison to gather his data from a course-based undergraduate research experience (CURE) in biology.  He spent a number of weeks in the field collecting the data.  He has also participated in several other research projects on STEM faculty development and development of research identity in undergraduate students for the SPRITE project with his colleague Kathy Ehlert.  He was an author for their paper that was recognized as the Best Paper in the Student Division of ASEE.  Dennis has presented his dissertation work at eight national conferences, lead author on a peer-reviewed conference paper, and is in the process of preparing several additional manuscripts.  He has collaborated on a NSF proposal that grew from the results of his dissertation research.  Dennis has published 10 peer-reviewed conference papers from his other projects with more publications in review or in preparation.  He has served as a formal and informal mentor for several undergraduate researchers and new graduate students.  He served as a co-leader for the ESED Lunch and Learn where he guided fruitful and engaging conversations about current and classic research articles.  He has served as a senator representing ESED for the Graduate Student Government (GSG) and a member of the GSG Finance Committee.  Dennis has a BA in zoology and a BA in bacteriology, a MS in bacteriology all from the University of Wisconsin Madison.  He also has doctoral coursework in Biochemistry and molecular biology and conducted research at Pennsylvania State University.  Congratulations, Dennis!

Our ESED Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher is Becca Spilka, who is a member of Marisa Orr’s research group.  Becca is an Industrial Engineering major who is planning on graduating this May.  She had a co-op with Advoco, a consulting firm specializing in enterprise asset management solutions, in Greenville for the spring and summer of 2019.  She currently serves as a Coop Ambassador for the Clemson Co-op office.  According to Marisa, Becca has been instrumental in developing a prototype Academic Dashboard as part of her CAREER grant research.  Becca has designed and is working on debugging the prototype which she has put together in Excel using Visual Basic, which is an approach that the group had not considered.  Marisa describes her initiative as a “game-changer.”  Becca has added functionalities that encourage the student user to develop self-regulated behavior and build good academic habits.  In addition to “single-handedly” bringing the Dashboard to life, Becca has authored an ASEE paper about the Dashboard, contributed to a poster for the NSF grantee meeting, analyzed statistics to examine the predictive power of metrics for overpersistence, and, on top of all that, written an instruction manual for the Dashboard to leave with the research group since she is graduating.  Becca has also conducted undergraduate researcher on virtual reality techniques for pain management in response to the opioids epidemic.  Congratulations to Becca!