Enhancing Student Learning and Quality of Graduates through Laboratory Experiences in the Civil Engineering Program

 

Project purpose and goal

The Civil & Environmental Engineering Department is the recipient of a 5-year, approximately $2 Million Department of Education’s Title III grant to upgrade and enhance five of its core instructional laboratories: (i) hydraulics, (ii) environmental, (iii) construction materials, (iv) geotechnical, and (v) transportation. This grant is funded through Title III program on campus. Dr. Raghava Kommalapati, P.E., BCEE serves as the project supervisor and PI and Dr. Iftekhar Ahmed, P.E., CPESC serves as Activity Coordinator and Co-PI.  The project goal is to upgrade and enhance the department’s laboratories with state-of-the-art equipment for sustainable support in student learning, undergraduate research activities, and mentoring.  The project was initiated in 2010 and is expected to complete in 2015.  The major annual tasks have included researching potential vendors, preparation of equipment lists, receive the merchandize, support of faculty and student training, and develop and integrate new laboratory experiments in the curriculum.

Problems Addressed

The Title III laboratory upgrade and enhancement grant allows the department to replace equipment that had been in place for over 25 years. These old equipment would not function optimally to generate adequate results. This posed problem in student learning through hands-on application of theory discussed in the lecture sessions. The laboratory sessions and the lectures in the junior level core courses are offered concurrently to maintain the rigor in student learning through hands on training. At the same time, there had been a need, leading up to receiving the Title III grant in 2010, to introduce advanced laboratory equipment that would assist student in the senior year to visualize difficult concepts in laboratory setting to enforce their learning of design concepts. The grant is making these long-desired changes possible.

Recent activities: inputs and interventions

The hydraulics lab was the first in receiving upgrade through replacement of its six deteriorated equipment used for core fluid mechanics experiments, and the acquirement of three completely new advanced hydraulics experiment stations namely, a hydrostatics bench, a pump test rig, and a waterhammer/pipe surge unit.

This was followed by the enhancement of the environmental lab with four major experimental units namely, ion chromatograph, mass spectrophotometer, total organic carbon analyzer, and a parallel computing cluster including water and wastewater quality assessment kits.  Equipment for the construction materials lab started to arrive in the fall of 2012 and the enhancement process is expected to end in summer of 2013.

 

Specific outcomes

Students in the hydraulics laboratory in the fall semesters of 2011 and 2012 have had access to three completely new experiments, and have been able to conduct full length experiments with the replaced units with all accessories at their disposal. Students and the faculty in charge have felt that the new and the replaced equipment with full set of accessories build better confidence with guided understanding of the fluid mechanics concepts. The Title III grant has allowed the Department to train one faculty annually to be able to provide state-of-the-art instructions in the respective labs using the new equipment. Undergraduate student help has been solicited through student worker employment.

Students in the hydraulics laboratory

Impact of activity on students, department and university

An existing condition student satisfaction survey conducted in the spring semester of 2011 portrayed a negative scenario with aging equipment leading to poor understanding of the concepts. Students in the fall 2011 hydraulics class anonymously agreed that they have been able to conduct full length experiments with the new and replaced equipment to satisfy their need to understand the fluid mechanics concepts applicable to practical civil engineering hydraulics problems. One pre-upgrade student survey comment was: “Around this time last year our lab equipment was in poor condition. Most of the equipment was not in one piece. And by this I mean it was either broken, missing a part(s) or our professor had to come up with ‘creative’ ideas to make it work. Keep in mind all this was done just so that a student could perform a simple lab experiment.” A contrasting post-upgrade survey comment by a student who retook the course is: “I find solace in having new equipment in the laboratory made possible by the grant through the Department of Education. Compared with last year, I can note some drastic improvements in my experience regarding conducting experiments in our lab.”

The grant allowed solicitation of peer and vendor consultation. Dr. Kommalapati presented the facts to the IAC members, the College of Engineering Deans, and gained support to continue to make the department laboratories modern and state-of-the-art.

 

Contact Information: 

Dr. Raghava R. Kommalapati, PhD, PE, BCEE

Professor and Interim Department Head

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (www.pvamu.edu/CEE)

Roy G. Perry College of Engineering

Mail Stop 2510,  P O Box 519

Prairie View A&M University

A Member of the Texas A&M University System

Prairie View, TX 77446

Ph. (936) 261 1660 (direct)/ 1665(department)

Fax: (936) 261 1662

Email: rrkommalapati@pvamu.edu