UC Receives STAR Grant

By: Desiré Bennett

The University of Cincinnati College of Engineering and Applied Science received a STAR (Seamless Transition from Academia to Real-world) grant to promote Problem-Based Learning.


Samuel Huang, PhD, Principal Invesitigator

The School of Dynamic Systems, SDS, of the University of Cincinnati’s College of Engineering and Applied Science, CEAS, aims to bridge competency gaps between what is provided in a traditional engineering education program and the needs of industry workforce through the newly funded grant Seamless Transition from Academia to Real-world (STAR): A collaborative Partnership to Producing Industry Ready Graduates.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a STAR grant of $200,000 for two years to SDS. The basis of this grant is an earlier NSF project EXPLORES (Experiential and Problem-based Learning within Opportunities for Real-world Engineering Settings). With the EXPLORES model, students from their freshman year onwards are exposed to real-world industrial problems that utilize fundamental engineering concepts in their solutions.

Through EXPLORES, mechanical engineering students work hands-on with industrial problems dealing with elemental engineering concepts throughout all four years of their education. Students identify case problems that are broken down into sub-problems and mapped to a selected set of key concepts taught in clusters of core courses.

computer lab students

Students, industry partners and instructors are able to access these case problems via a virtual company repository, fostering an environment with periodic review and feedback. This process enables students to learn to access their own work as well as that of their peers.  “This grant will help us bring this collaboration to a new level, [essentially] bringing industry expertise to students as part of their regular classwork,” said Dr. Samuel Huang, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Director of the Intelligent Systems Laboratory within the School of Dynamic Systems.

Dr. Huang, Principal Investigator for the STAR grant, has been awarded several grants from the National Science Foundation totaling over $1 million for his research in health care, manufacturing research and education. To receive the STAR grant, Dr. Huang worked with Co-Principal Investigators Sundararaman Anand and Manish Kumar, but he also credits others for the success of this award. “The development of the grant was driven by the External Advisory Board (EAB) of the School of Dynamic Systems in early 2010,” he said. “Art Koehler from P&G, Jan Schilling from GE Aviation, and Gary Conley from TechSolve have provided strong support in developing the grant.”

Incorporating real-world industrial problems in engineering curriculum under a virtual company framework is rooted in the Problem-Based Learning teaching method, which is gaining increasing popularity in higher education. The EXPLORES model is centered on the use of the Problem Based Learning.


The central features of PBL include the following principles:

(1) learning is student-centered;
(2) students identify, find, and use appropriate resources;
(3) students learn group co-operation in all stages of work;
(4) instructors are facilitators;
(5) inter-disciplinary learning where solution of the problem can extend beyond traditional subject-related boundaries and methods;
(6) opportunity to acquire deeper learning;
(7) problems form the stimulus for learning;
(8) problems are based on complex, real-world situations; and
(9) problems are contextualized to promote student motivation and comprehension.

The desirable outcome of this instructional approach, compared to traditional modes of teaching, is that students develop deep learning approaches that enable them to engage in what Dr. Huang hopes will be lifelong learning. “We plan to develop a follow-up proposal in two years, which would make this program self-sustaining.”


About the National Science Foundation
The National Science Foundation  is an independent Federal agency created by the National Science Foundation Act of 1950. According to Nsf.gov, the purpose of the NSF is "to promote the progress of science; [and] to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare by supporting research and education in all fields of science and engineering." NSF receives approximately 40,000 proposals each year for research, education and training projects, of which approximately 11,000 are funded, making the process to receive a grant a highly competitive one.

About the University of Cincinnati College of Engineering and Applied Science
The College of Engineering and Applied Science, CEAS, provides an array of complementing programs that spans the gap between science and application. With strong research programs, internationally renowned cooperative work experiences, and a long history of educational excellence in technology and engineering, the college delivers unparalleled opportunities for our graduates.

With more than $30,000,000 in annual research expenditures and 200 doctorate, masters, and Masters of Engineering degree graduates per year, UC’s College of Engineering and Applied Science has extensive research and development capabilities. CEAS also has over 130 PhD level faculty whose research results in the issuing of approximately 25 invention disclosures and patents each year.