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Technology-driven revolution in engineering education

Alumni Engineering Learning Center inverts education’s traditional model  

By Tom Robinette

The elevator doors on the eighth floor of Rhodes Hall open to the future of engineering education. Step out and behold the aesthetics of an android’s dream: curving walls, open ceilings, high-definition monitors and complex formulas printed under large sheets of decorative glass. And every bit sparkles with the promise of unlimited possibility.

Welcome to the University of Cincinnati’s Alumni Engineering Learning Center.

“When we designed this facility, we wanted people to get off the elevator and say, ‘Look what UC is doing for undergraduate engineers.’ And through the generosity of alumni, I think we’ve succeeded,” says James Boerio, head of the Department of Engineering Education in the College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS). “This is probably the single biggest development in undergraduate education in the college since Dean Herman Schneider invented co-op in 1906.”

Boerio was a guiding force behind developing the center, which opened fall semester 2012. He and former CEAS dean Carlo Montemagno spent roughly two years researching how to better engage today’s engineering students and train tomorrow’s engineers. Using feedback from students and faculty while leaning on the experiences of alumni, the college set out to create a facility that would revolutionize its undergraduate education program with innovative teaching methods and the latest technology. 

Support from alumni, industry and the university generated $7.8 million in funding — a substantial amount of which came from private donations to the project. 

The grand plan started with a modest idea: build a sense of place. “First-year students can feel lost, especially at a large institution,” Boerio says. “We wanted a place where students would feel at home.”

With a beverage bar, stylish lounge and walls intended for students to write on them, the center is one of the most inviting learning atmospheres on campus. But what really helps the center stand out is its technology. 

Robert Fealy, Bus ’73, of technology-service provider AMX, donated more than $1 million of advanced software and hardware to the center. A prime example: The flagship classroom features seven projector-equipped tables and a central-command kiosk that allows the instructor to transmit any student project onto the main classroom display for group discussion.

Impressive as the gadgetry is, the center is more than the sum of its high-tech parts. It’s symbolic of a different philosophy. 

By design, the physical structure of the facility promotes collaboration. Student teams move from interactive lectures into recitation classrooms, which are often facilitated by peer-level tutors. Afterward, teams can apply the day’s lessons in the spacious open study area. If students need help, a nearby corridor is lined with engineering faculty offices.

A revamped curriculum also takes advantage of the college’s new 10,000-square-foot showpiece. First-year CEAS students are now required to take three engineering-specific courses that immediately immerse them in the collaborative experiences of the center.

“In this new conception, you take the traditional model and invert it,” Boerio says. “We’re not doing the same thing over and over again. We’re changing things and improving things.”

In addition to Robert Fealy, the estate of Geraldine Constantine; Kenneth Glass, M(Eng) ’63, M(A&S) ’65; S. Jay Stewart, Eng ’61, and his wife, Judith, contributed major donations to the center. See complete donor list.

Donor List for Alumni Engineering Learning Center

  •  Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Allspach 
  •  Mr. Kenneth Brandon 
  •  Dr. and Mrs. Robert Calico Jr. 
  •  Dr. and Mrs. Stephen Carr 
  •  Mr. and Mrs. Robert Campbell 
  •  Estate of Geraldine Constantine 
  •  Sargent & Lundy, LLC 
  •  Mr. and Mrs. John Dirksing 
  •  Jeanette and Donald Edwards Foundation 
  •  Engineers & Scientists of Greater Cincinnati 
  •  Bob and Rose Fealy 
  •  A. William Forbriger, Jr. 
  •  Frank and Tara Gardner 
  •  GE - Aviation 
  •  General Tool Co.
  •  Mr. and Mrs. William Giesler 
  • TECT Power and Glass Foundation
  •  Dr. and Mrs. John Grisik 
  •  Herman Schneider Foundation 

  •  Bill and Susan Huber 
  •  Mr. Daniel and Dr. Linda Kellogg 
  •  Dr. and Mrs. Bradley Lerch 
  •  Loth, Inc. 
  •  Mr. and Mrs. William Lower 
  •  Chris and Spes Mekus 
  •  Dr. and Mrs. Dane Miller 
  •  Mr. and Mrs. Timothy Seese 
  •  Mr. and Mrs. James Shellhaus 
  •  Skanska USA 
  •  Steven Schaefer Associates
  •  Mr. and Mrs. Nikhil Shenoi 
  •  Michael and Lonna Smith 
  •  Mr. and Mrs. Jay Stewart 
  •  American Transmission Co.
  •  Dr. and Mrs. Donald Vieth 
  •  Edward and Jean Wedbush 
  •  Jerry Wittenauer
  •  Joan and Karl Zimmer 
  •  Zingale Family Foundation 

Image gallery

photos by Lisa Ventre

UC students study in the Alumni Engineering Learning Center
UC students study in the Alumni Engineering Learning Center
UC students study in the Alumni Engineering Learning Center
UC students study in the Alumni Engineering Learning Center