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Saterbak to Lead Redesign of Pratt First-Year Experience

The program is part of a wider effort to give all Duke Engineering students project- and problem-based experiences right from the start

Ann SaterbakThe Houston Zoo needed a feeder for its giraffes.

First-year engineering students, studying under Ann Saterbak, designed it. Along the way, they learned not only what and how giraffes eat, but also important lessons in technical writing, design thinking and working with a client.

That powerful idea – that students should be immersed immediately in real-world, hands-on design in their first months in engineering school – has real benefits for students and for a world that needs great engineers to design solutions to its most pressing challenges.

Saterbak is bringing that groundbreaking perspective to the Pratt School of Engineering as director of the new Duke Engineering First-Year Experience. The award-winning engineering education expert arrived on campus this spring and will start the new program with a pilot course for 50 first-year students in the fall.

“There’s a real opportunity at Duke to affect engineering on a wide scale with a first-year experience applicable to all engineering students,” said Saterbak, who comes to Duke from Rice University, where she was associate dean for engineering education and led efforts to infuse hands-on opportunities and design thinking into the undergraduate program.

In 2013, she received the Theo C. Pilkington Outstanding Educator Award from the American Society for Engineering Education-Biomedical Engineering Division for her significant contributions to innovations in BME education.

The new Duke program builds on existing first-year hands-on design opportunities including the Engineering Innovation course in mechanical engineering and the Engineering the Planet class in civil engineering.

“Ann brings a nationally recognized wealth of experience in course design and engineering education methods to Pratt,” said Senior Associate Dean George Truskey, who is also the R. Eugene and Susie E. Goodson Professor of Biomedical Engineering. “Every engineering student takes a lot of courses during their first two years, but not every school gives them a chance to design a solution for a community partner’s real-world problem.”

New Design Lab Opening Fall 2017

The Jinny and Ed Pratt Commons, which is the ground-level oval space previously occupied by Blue Express Café at the Levine Science Research Center (LSRC), will be renovated in Summer 2017 to serve as a Design and Learning Lab for Pratt’s new first-year hands-on engineering design course. The new education space will include workbenches, tools and rapid prototyping machines that the teams will use to construct physical prototypes and/or digital artifacts as they engage in the engineering design process.

floor plan

Renovations will begin when the Blue Express Café closes after graduation weekend. Although the café will not reopen, dining options will remain nearby at Twinnie’s, Nosh Jo Rae Café and the 13 venues in the new West Union, among others. Phase One (primary seating/workspace area) is expected to be completed by the start of fall semester 2017, with Phase 2 (kitchen area renovation) expected in the following weeks.

The first-year program will add a practical design experience for all first-year students, even before they have declared which engineering discipline they wish to study. It’s part of a transformation of the undergraduate experience, led by Dean Ravi Bellamkonda, that will also include common courses in data science and applied computing, with the goal of giving all Duke Engineering students project- and problem-based engineering experiences right from the start.

Designing for a community client is a key ingredient, Saterbak said.

“Engineering schools for a long time have introduced design concepts with wooden-stick bridge projects and the like,” she said. “What’s been missing is the client, and understanding how an engineer is working to solve real problems for a real person or organization.”

By working with a community client, students learn the process of design. After the course, they apply those foundational skills throughout their careers as engineering students.

Research shows that first-year students who take design courses are more likely to stay with engineering as their undergraduate degree. Students have improved self-efficacy, that is, a genuine belief that they can succeed in problem-solving and meet challenges going forward in their time as undergraduate students.

Quick Bio: Ann Saterbak

Positions: Director of Duke Engineering First-Year Experience and professor of the practice of biomedical engineering
Education: PhD, chemical engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Previously: Associate dean for undergraduate education and full teaching professor, Rice University
Industry Experience: Environmental research engineer, Shell Development Company, 1995-1999

Saterbak has hit the ground running, said Linda Franzoni, associate dean for undergraduate education and professor of the practice of mechanical engineering and materials science.

“Ann is a real dynamo,” Franzoni said. “This spring she has already met with partners for our client-focused design experience, and she has reached out to faculty and started laying the groundwork for partners across the Duke campus.”

This summer, Saterbak will also guide the development of a dedicated workspace for the first-year program, where students will design and prototype their projects. At Duke, she will be a faculty member of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, where she will work with colleagues on enhancing design capabilities in BME.

“Ann’s work with first-year undergraduates has been groundbreaking and innovative,” said Ashutosh Chilkoti, chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Alan L. Kaganov Professor of Biomedical Engineering. “And, her work as part of the design instructor team in the BME department will help us grow and deepen the role of design throughout the undergraduate BME curriculum.”

Saterbak holds a PhD in chemical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and she is an elected fellow of both the Biomedical Engineering Society and the American Society for Engineering Education.