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Curriculum changes on the way as part of Modernization

Undergraduates in CEE at Illinois will receive more instruction in computational and data management skills; technical communication; critical thinking and problem solving; and professional practice strengths due to curriculum changes being implemented over the next four academic years. The changes are designed to better position students as leaders in the civil and environmental engineering field who are capable of addressing society’s grand challenges.

CEE at Illinois students

The process of examining the curriculum began with a day-long faculty retreat last fall that was entirely curriculum-focused. Since then, CEE’s eight-member Curriculum Committee has been working on recommendations and an implementation plan using the ideas that came out of that retreat, a review of literature on undergraduate education, and consultation with external experts. Its charge was “to investigate what should be enhanced, maintained and/or de-emphasized in the current Illinois CEE undergraduate program in order to continue providing a top-notch education, enabling our graduates to become leaders in responding to current and future societal needs.”

“We’re a highly ranked department, so we’re doing something right,” said Professor John Popovics, who heads the Curriculum Committee. “What we do well is that we have a very fundamental and traditional set of courses that are established, rigorous and that impart a complete knowledge of the fundamentals. It forms the foundation for everything. This will be a process. We are not blowing up the curriculum; we are incrementally making changes in a staged structure.”

The initiative to modernize the curriculum goes hand-in-hand with CEE’s facilities Modernization Plan. The staged implementation was designed to save until last the curricular changes that require the new teaching facilities, scheduled to be completed in spring 2020.

“The new facilities will be critical for providing the environment for classes that are more hands-on and involve critical thinking and open-ended problems,” Popovics said.

In the meantime, CEE will begin working on improving instruction in the first identified skill set – computational and data management skills. The general approach with each skill set will be to develop a culture of cooperative education and student accountability by harmonizing content and expectations throughout all course levels. The curriculum will provide a flow of learning from freshman to senior years, including clear connections between early and advanced courses, between fundamentals and engineering applications, and between engineering analysis and design. Classes will include more project-based learning, hands-on experiences and the use of real-world problems to help students make connections between courses and their eventual professional goals. Students also will have opportunities for more interdisciplinary design and collaboration, as well as systems-level thinking.

The Curriculum Committee is a standing committee of the department. In addition to Popovics, members of the committee are Professor Tami Bond; Associate Professor Mani Golparvar-Fard; professors Youssef HashashJames LaFave and Jeffery Roesler; Research Assistant Professor Arthur Schmidt; and Assistant Professor Ashlynn Stillwell.

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