On occasion, CTEq welcomes guest blogs about key issues or engaging ideas that may be of interest to our audience. Dr. Mitzi Montoya is vice provost and dean of the College of Technology and Innovation at Arizona State University.
The future of STEM education can be summed up in one simple idea:
If you want to equip students to tackle complex, multidisciplinary challenges in a real-world environmentafter they graduate, then you need to teach them how to tackle complex, multidisciplinary challenges in a real-world environment before they graduate.
At the College of Technology and Innovation, we base as much of our curriculum as possible on projects. Students in our three major program areas – engineering, applied science and management – start with simpler projects that fit within the confines of a single class, and then advance over four years to more complex tasks that require larger teams and longer time periods.
Our senior iProjects  bring students, faculty, and industry or government sponsors together to find innovative solutions to real-world problems. Each project involves four to eight students working together in an interdisciplinary team. The partner commits to funding the project for materials, use of labs and equipment and other expenses, and also provides a project liaison, who works with the student team to develop detailed project requirements, negotiate changes, and present interim and final results. Partners receive full access to all project outcomes and retain all intellectual property.
Among this year’s iProjects , the one everyone seems most excited about is the “dog waste digester,” sponsored by the town of Gilbert, AZ. Located near Phoenix, Gilbert is home to the very popular “Cosmo” dog park, which gets more than 600,000 visitors each year.
That’s a lot of dog poop.
Currently, that waste is taken to a local landfill, and it costs the city about $9,000 each year to dispose of it. The digester our students are building will use solar power to convert the waste to methane gas, which would then be harnessed to power a light that will draw dog owners’ attention to the proper disposal area. This iProject includes students and faculty from biology, engineering and psychology.
In a story last summer in the Arizona Republic , Assistant Town Manager Tami Ryall said town officials were “really excited at the opportunity to have the students design it.”
Faculty advisor Kiril D. Hristovski described the way the project fits in with the College’s mission: “In the real world, you work as a team and they should be able to function as a team.”
The iProjects are an exciting new model for higher education. Students apply newly acquired knowledge, giving them tremendous workplace experience in a university environment. Industry partners retain all intellectual property, access student creativity and expertise, and can assess potential intern and workforce candidates. The College is able to attract and retain students of the highest potential because of the exemplary interdisciplinary team-based learning experience that these projects provide.
For more information, please check out our webpage: technology.asu.edu/iprojects .