Coffee is a good way to get students interested in engineering
Mark Atwater posted on December 22, 2013 |
Chemical Engineering and coffee combine in a buzz-worthy way.

How do you lure the undecided college student into an engineering class? Professors at UC Davis think they’ve got it figured out. Give them what they want.

The selling point? A beverage that has become synonymous with college life. No, not beer. Coffee.

For the students who do much studying during college, coffee is not only a matter of life support, but now it can count for college credit as well.

Attracting students into unfamiliar engineering programs, such as chemical engineering, can be difficult. Few people can clearly define what chemical engineers learn in school or do upon graduation. Instructors, William Ristenpart and Tonya Kuhl, wanted to include an early introduction to the discipline since most major-specific courses are upper-level.

This recruitment and retention tool started as a seminar course, but the positive response inspired a full course, ECM 1: The Design of Coffee.

The course announcement describes the class as combining theoretical principles to the practice of coffee brewing.

“Each week will begin with a 50 minute instructor-led discussion about a different chemical engineering principle, with a focus on how that principle is manifested in the production of coffee. We will then go into the laboratory to perform experiments to test those engineering principles – and then of course to taste the resulting coffee!”

The theory-application connection happens in a variety of ways. For instance, chemical reactions are applied to the task of roasting coffee beans perfectly, mass transfer demonstrates how extraction is fundamental to quality, and thermodynamics is introduced by discussing espresso, decaf and “the beauty of phase diagrams.”

In step with recruitment and retention, the course is a soft introduction to the discipline. It is non-mathematical with the bulk of the grade being based on project work. The course satisfies general education requirements as well to attract non-majors. Although many students are attracted by the prospect of coffee for the caffeine, decaf is also allowed and students are not required to drink the coffee.

This sort of introductory course offers the excitement factor that can keep students awake, even in a morning class.



Still not convinced the course is for you? Maybe the video below will change your mind.


Images courtesy of UC Davis.

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