Mission Critical: Assisting Students and Assessing Programs

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June 18, 2012

For Daina Briedis, it's all about assisting students and assessing programs as she steps into her new role as assistant dean for student advancement and program assessment, a newly created position in MSU's College of Engineering.

Briedis, associate professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, says her responsibilities include student advancement, program assessment, and assisting in other areas of the undergraduate studies program as needed.

In the area of student advancement, Briedis says her goal is to “lift up and encourage high-achieving undergraduate students.

In the freshman year, one of the goals is to develop challenging experiences to attract and retain gifted students, because sometimes the most gifted students lose interest most quickly. "They don't necessarily see the connections between what they are doing in the classroom and what engineering is really all about," says Briedis. So it's important to engage them from the moment they set foot on campus.

While EGR 100, with its challenging, hands-on design projects does a lot to ensure that students are engaged, it can be difficult to give individual attention to each of the 1,000 freshmen who pass through that course each year.

One feature of the program that keeps high-achieving students involved is the service-learning aspect—special projects assigned to student teams in EGR 100. Several projects on a smaller scale have already been implemented by Timothy Hinds, academic director for the CoRe Experience, and Carmellia Davis-King, who leads the residential aspect of the first-year experience. "These projects help students make the connection; it's not just a classroom project, it's something that helps society," says Briedis. "In particular, this is important to women in engineering seeing the societal connections."

Getting more students involved in undergraduate research, through professorial assistantships and MSU research forums across campus, is a high priority for Briedis. "Research experiences for undergrads are available all across the United States; we'd like to better publicize these within our college, to get our students out there," says Briedis. "When students have these kinds of experiences, they can bring back what they've learned, apply it to their work here, and also make wise choices about where they want to go to grad school."

She also says it's her role to match up undergraduate students with available scholarships. "I see myself, in some ways, as a 'clearinghouse,'" Briedis says. Her mission is to seek out available scholarships and talk to advisers and faculty members in the College of Engineering and in the Honors College to see if they are aware of students who might be a good fit for a particular scholarship.

Within the past 11 years, the College of Engineering has produced 10 Goldwater Scholars, 2 Churchill Scholars, and a Gates Cambridge Scholar. Briedis hopes to continue this impressive record.

In her new role, Briedis is responsible for assessing the Engineering CoRe Experience,
the cornerstone and residential components of the undergraduate program. Initially launched as two programs, they were recently integrated into one entity, now led by S. Patrick Walton.

"The CoRE Experience provides a holistic foundation to facilitate the transformation of these early engineering students into young engineering professionals. Key elements of this transformation include the integration and collaboration among curricular and co-curricular programs, integrated and effective tutoring and other academic support programs, opportunities for engagement with faculty and with industry, and articulation broadly with the living-learning environment," says Briedis.

One critical point where students drop out of the engineering program is in the transition from first to second year. “We want to address that. We want to ensure that we've really done all that we can to engage these students," she says.

To help accomplish that, the college has developed a Connector Faculty program, matching EGR 100 students to disciplinary faculty, thus providing an opportunity for informal interaction. This semester, 74 faculty members are involved. Over the past four years, more than half of the faculty members in the college have participated.

Briedis will assist in assessing a number of other ongoing programs within the College of Engineering and will also be involved with the college's ABET accreditation.

"There are several challenges ahead of me in this new position," says Briedis. "I am excited about how each of these efforts will improve the quality of the undergraduate experience in the College of Engineering and how this will help make MSU more visible on the national scene."