Chris Rogers

Chris Rogers
© Mark Morelli

Engineer receives NSF award for innovative teaching

Chris Rogers, professor of mechanical engineering, is one of six faculty members from around the country to receive the National Science Foundation's 2003 Director's Award for Distinguished Teaching Scholars. Rogers was recognized for his work in making engineering accessible and exciting to students of all ages.

The awards, totaling $1.8 million, were presented at a ceremony at the National Academy of Sciences on June 3.

"Chris Rogers represents what is great about Tufts University faculty," said Jamshed Bharucha, provost and senior vice president. "His passion for research is matched only by his dedication to educating his students. His teaching is innovative, exciting and transformative."

Recipients' four-year grants of $300,000 will enable them to improve how science, technology, engineering and mathematics research translates into instruction of undergraduates, including those not majoring in these fields. In addition to Rogers, the other award-winners are faculty members at Princeton University, the University of Michigan, the College of the Holy Cross, the University of Delaware and Hampshire College.

NSF Director Rita Colwell established the award in 2001 as part of the foundation's effort to promote an interest among academics in both disciplinary scholarship and in undergraduate education in mathematics, science, technology and engineering, regardless of students' majors.

A 1998 Carnegie Massachusetts Professor of the Year, Rogers has focused much of his research on making engineering concepts and education more meaningful to students in kindergarten through college. Working with the LEGO Co., Rogers developed ROBOLAB, an educational tool that uses Lego building blocks and robotics to teach science and math. With the aid of computerized motors and sensors, ROBOLAB allows students to experience and better understand sophisticated science and engineering concepts.

More than 30,000 elementary schools, high schools and colleges around the world are using ROBOLAB, which has been translated into 15 languages.

"Graduate [student] research is open-ended and allows students to question existing models and make new discoveries," Rogers says. "Why not give all students open-ended questions so they can experience the thrill of discovery and understand how to apply the mathematical and experimental tools they are learning?"

Rogers' approach to engineering education attracts students outside the School of Engineering to his courses, which include the design of musical instruments. He also works with Tufts' Center for Engineering Educational Outreach, which is dedicated to bringing engineering principles into K-12 classrooms. Using engineering design activities, the center works with K-12 teachers around the country to design curricula, test new teaching strategies and investigate how children learn best.

"These faculty are the ones who show undergraduate students that scientists are made, not born," Judith Ramaley, NSF's assistant director for the Education and Human Resources Directorate, said of the award recipients. "They're literally pulling back the curtain of science with imaginative, informative and insightful practices and projects that make the opportunity of experiencing science accessible to all students."

With his grant, Rogers intends to continue his studies of how students at all levels learn engineering. He hopes to increase the engineering literacy of all college graduates and bridge the gap between engineering and liberal arts courses by fostering collaborations with institutions interested in using open-ended research problems to increase the effectiveness of teaching and learning.