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By Bryan Hay

Polly Piergiovanni, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, has won the prestigious and competitive William H. Corcoran Award from the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE).

Since 1986, the award has been presented annually to the author of the most outstanding peer-reviewed article published in Chemical Engineering Education, a quarterly journal that highlights innovations in chemical engineering education practice as well as research on chemical engineering education.

Piergiovanni’s article, “Students Learn Without Lectures,” was selected out of a field of about 24 other articles published last year.

“The committee considers quality and potential for impact of the works when making their selection,” says Margot Vigeant, professor of chemical engineering at Bucknell University and co-chair of ASEE’s Chemical Engineering Division Awards Committee. “Polly’s article was particularly compelling as a mix of innovations in chemical engineering education and research.”

In her article, Piergiovanni describes her technique using problem-based learning where students are presented with a series of challenges that they have to solve by asking questions.

“I looked at different ways that engineering students learn concepts best, and led them to the solution rather than standing up and giving them the methods to solve the problems,” she says. “They asked me questions and that set me up to give a 10-minute mini-lecture instead of me giving them the lecture before they needed it.”

The pedagogical technique was put into practice on two locally based projects.

The first project considered converting A-Treat Bottling Co. in Allentown, Pa. (which had shut down but has since reopened) to bottle ketchup manufacturer.

The second was at Klein Farms Dairy and Creamery near Lafayette. There students learned how to make mozzarella using 100 gallons of milk at a time; the challenge was for them to increase cheese production using 1,000 gallons of milk at a time.

“They designed a heat exchanger system to pasteurize and then cool the milk, which fit perfectly into the course,” Piergiovanni said. “Since then, for the past two years student groups have partnered with Klein Farms on their Capstone design project.”

She notes that the ASEE’s award shows her that her peers in the field value what she’s doing.

“It makes me very proud,” Piergiovanni said. “I didn’t expect it.  Lafayette is a small college in the chemical engineering community, but we can still have an impact.”

Lauren Anderson, head of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, said her colleague is always exploring new opportunities to improve student learning outcomes. “Polly is truly a leader in the chemical engineering education community and most deserving of this recognition,” she said.

The award, established in memory of Bill Corcoran from California Institute of Technology, first chair of the publication board for the journal, will be presented to Piergiovanni at the ASEE Chemical Engineering Division’s awards banquet on June 25.


Categorized in: Academic News, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Engineering, Faculty and Staff, Faculty Profiles, Featured News, News and Features

1 Comment

  1. Diane Dutt says:

    Congratulations, Polly. You are well-deserving of this award. My daughter, Kristi Dutt, had you for a professor in the early 1990s. You were a great teacher then and I’m sure just got better over the years. Way to go, Polly!

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