Engineering News

Hambleton Receives Faculty Award to Support Creation of Innovative Curriculum

Optional course module will explore soil-structure and soil-machine interaction

Northwestern Engineering’s James Hambleton has been named a 2019 recipient of The Alumnae of Northwestern University’s Award for Curriculum Development.

The award, administered by the Office of the Provost, provides $12,500 to professors to support the development of innovative course materials and new modes of teaching.

James Hambleton

Hambleton, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, will develop a teaching module that supports and enhances an existing first-year engineering course and includes experiential learning activities aimed at improving student engagement and performance.

Megan Bang and Shirin Vossoughi, professor and assistant professor, respectively, in the School of Education and Social Policy (SESP), also received awards.

With a focus on active learning, critical thinking, and the development of relevant skills, each professor’s projects will prepare students for greater success within and outside of their disciplines. Each project embodies the innovation that is paramount for recipients of The Alumnae Award for Curriculum Development, helping to grow and strengthen the undergraduate curriculum at Northwestern in creative ways.

Inspiring first-year engineering students to enjoy basic mechanics

Hambleton will develop an optional module for first-year students taken concurrently with Engineering Analysis 2, a required course. Hands-on activities, friendly competitions, and in-depth discussion of real-world examples will inspire and engage students and reinforce core course content.

During the first half of the course, Hambleton will draw from his own research on how soils are moved and shaped through interaction with man-made objects. Student teams will design and build a “boring machine,” which will be tested in the new Soil-Structure and Soil-Machine Interaction Laboratory. In developing their own designs, students will be encouraged to look at bio-inspired machine designs, examining how worms, insects, clams, and plant roots burrow through soil.

For the second group activity, students will design, build, and test a 3D-printed truss, making use of 3D printers in on-campus maker spaces. They also will examine and discuss the mechanics involved in prominent bridge failures.

Both activities will culminate in competitions between student groups, with prizes awarded to the best-performing models and to those employing the most innovative design concepts.

Hambleton noted that education research identifies hands-on activities as a means of retaining engineering students, and the course provides an innovative and rigorous pedagogy to address the knowledge gap that can exist between first-year engineering students.

Hambleton joined the Northwestern faculty in Fall 2016 and has gained recognition as a skilled and dedicated teacher. In her letter of support, department chair Kimberly Gray noted that Hambleton is a “superior communicator” with an “infectious exuberance for engineering.”

Hambleton’s award will fund the purchase of supplies and equipment for the pilot offering of the course, the hiring of undergraduate teaching assistants, and prize money for the winning groups. Close work with the undergraduate assistants, who will serve as mentors for the first-year students, will be another course benefit.

The Alumnae of Northwestern University is an all-volunteer organization of women that raises funds for a wide range of projects to benefit the University and also shares the University's academic resources with the community through its Continuing Education program. Founded in 1916, The Alumnae has given more than $8 million to the University in the form of grants, fellowships, scholarships, and an endowed professorship. It also has provided funds for special University projects and summer internships.