A National Science Foundation Funded Project

The Research Question: Do graduate students who engage as co-creators of interdisciplinary educational modules with faculty and industry experts improve their communication, teamwork skills and interest in research?


  • Create opportunities for students to work with an interdisciplinary team of faculty and industry professionals and learn about the variety of problems that engineering students can investigate.
  • Support a culture wherein students can explore research topics aligned with their backgrounds, experiences and interests.
  • Increase the participation of traditionally underrepresented students in graduate engineering research.

Theme : Cyber-Physical Systems and Life-Cycle Management and Assessment

The project will be piloted considering the topics of Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) and Product Lifecycle Management (PLM). CPS are physical systems that are embedded with sensors and connected via a communication network to computing systems that monitor, make data-driven decisions and control the physical system. PLM and life-cycle assessment (LCA) are becoming important practices in manufacturing and service industries with increasing availability of data across the lifecycle of the product or system. CPS and PLM together pose interesting and challenging problems across the science, engineering and humanities disciplines in a wide variety of applications.

Project Overview

  • There are two phases in this research. The first phase that takes place over a semester includes training graduate students in the co-creation process. Several workshops on writing, interdisciplinary collaboration, asking the right questions, inclusive teamwork are offered periodically. At the same time topics on CPS and PLM are being explored by two student teams using a project-based learning framework. Students are connected to industry professionals and given guidance on interview techniques. This phase culminates with each group completing and submitting for review a conference proceedings or journal paper. The research is also to be mapped to an online educational module.
  • In the second phase, the online modules are integrated as special topics in an undergraduate or first year graduate course at each of the four collaborating institutions. These modules are written primarily by the graduate students and are designed to be accessible to students who may not have a background in CPS or PLM.
  • Each phase includes assessment by an independent evaluator using qualitative data generated from focus groups and quantitative data from surveys and questionnaires.

The Team

Researchers from engineering, psychology sociology and business at: University of Massachusetts Lowell, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, University of the District of Columbia and North Carolina A&T State University.

  • Kavitha Chandra, Associate Dean Undergraduate Programs and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Massachusetts Lowell
  • Susan Tripathy, Associate Teaching Professor of Sociology, University of Massachusetts Lowell
  • Charles Thompson, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Massachusetts Lowell
  • Tzuyang Yu, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Massachusetts Lowell
  • Jennifer Percival, Dean, Schmidthorst College of Business, Bowling Green State University, Formerly Associate Dean at the Manning School of Business, University of Massachusetts Lowell
  • Trina Kershaw, Professor of Psychology, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
  • Hong Liu, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
  • Max Denis, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, University of the District of Columbia
  • Ioannis Raptis, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, North Carolina A&T State University

Seniors - Graduate Students -Join Our Team !

Just got your undergraduate degree or starting a graduate degree and unsure about what you want to do next? Not sure which direction you want to take - Graduate Research or a job somewhere?

Join our Innovations in Graduate Education Project for a fast-paced semester partnering with researchers and industry professionals on challenging societal problems.

You will improve your communication, team-work and leadership skills; learn to write and speak to a broad audience; be ready to advocate good policies, interview experts, direct research and educate the future generation; and make a positive impact on society and the environment.

A semester of short innovative workshops that end with student led co-authors on a conference paper and an online educational module.

Join us! Email: kavitha_chandra@uml.edu to sign up and get more information.

In the Fall semester (2022) we’ve designed a set of short but insightful training activities for participants to learn about the co-creation and module design process. These workshops are all on UMass Lowell North Campus and are all designed to be interactive in a project-based learning environment. Each workshop will take students a step further to the final products – the paper and the module.

  • September
    • Faculty and Industry Orientation to Nature of Project (~1 hour)
    • Technical Content Introduction, Project-Based Learning (PjBL), Challenging Problem / Question (~1 hour)
    • Full Group Orientation: Establishing collaboration; Introduction to Co-creation; Identifying and Responding to Microaggressions (~1.5 hours)
  • October
    • Generating questions and reviewing literature (PjBL: Sustained Inquiry) (~1.5 hours)
  • November
    • Writing workshop about crafting your message for your audience (PjBL: sustained inquiry in relation to final project 1, conference paper) (~1 hour)
    • Values and connecting personally top the topic (PjBL: authenticity) (~1 hour)
  • December
    • How to structure information to be delivered in an educational module (introductory workshop in relation to final project 2, education module) (~1 hour)

Innovations in Graduate Education:

Project News, Activities & Reflections

The Engineering, Sociology and Psychology Connection for Broadening Participation in Engineering

This project integrates methodologies and tools from across the engineering, psychology and sociology fields. For example, the design of focus groups for participatory action design (PAR) has been explored by this team for several years. The PAR technique engages its participants as researchers to become vested in identifying and designing solutions to problems that impact them. This has not only given voice to engineering students in improving their environment but has also created opportunities for students to become facilitators of PAR focus groups and gain leadership skills. We have integrated PAR in an Introduction to Mechanical Engineering course, in the RAMP summer program and now in the NSF IGE project.

References, Publications and Resources

  1. S. Tripathy, T.Kershaw, C. Thompson, H. Liu, T. Yu, J. Allen, M. Denis and K. Chandra, ‘Engaging Graduate Students as Co-Creators of Educational Modules on an Educational Topic’, Proc. 2022 ASEE Conference, Minneapolis, June 2022.

Read Engaging Graduate Students as Co-creators of Educational Modules on an Interdisciplinary Topic.

Spring and Summer 2022

The first group of seven student participants who engaged in the co-creation project on CPS and PLM presented two papers at the ASEE Northeast regional conference in Boston, Mass., The CPS paper addressed ‘ Co-creating a Cyber-Physical Systems Educational Module: A Project-Based Learning Approach’ and was co-authored by students Grace Remillard (UMass Lowell), Sarah Kamal (UMass Lowell) and Justin An (UDC). The paper on PLM looked at ‘An Application Driven Framework for Delivering System and Product Lifecycle Management Concepts in Engineering Education’ and was co-authored by students Vacharaporn Paradorn, Sunita Singh Poma, Nathan Agyeman and Tiana Robinson, all students at UML.

Research team (Chandra, Kershaw and Tripathy) attended the ASEE 2022 National Conference at Minneapolis in June 2022 and presented a paper entitled ‘Engaging Graduate Students as Co-Creators of Educational Modules on an Interdisciplinary Topic’.

Fall 2021

The first group of seven engineering students (4 graduate and 3 undergraduate) from UML and UDC were recruited to participate in Phase 1 of the project. Students were presented with the Gold Standard model of Project Based Learning and guided on implementing its stages. The process of questioning was introduced using resources from the Right Question Institute. A writing workshop was presented to highlight some common mistakes and examples of writing compelling paragraphs. Two focus groups were conducted with the students by Dr. Tripathy. The responses provided the project coordinators immediate feedback on the students’ concerns and experiences to which necessary adjustments and resources were identified.

A Student's Reflection

Group photo of 6 people in front of background for 2022 ASEE NE conference.

My name is Grace Remillard and I was a senior undergraduate student (pictured second from the right) when the project started and I was a graduate student the second half of last year. I have gained so much knowledge and direction through the co-creation project. Through a hands on project based learning approach I was able to explore a topic that interested me. Being able to co-create led me to learning more than I could have otherwise. The Cyber-Physical Systems topic I worked on through the IGE project became my master’s thesis topic, giving me a direction for my graduate degree. Through this semester activity I gained the skills needed to write a paper and present it in front of my peers and professionals. My co-author Sarah Kamal and I presented our paper at the 2022 ASEE NE conference.