CU-Boulder Faculty To Receive $500,000 Prize For Innovation In Engineering Education

Published: Jan. 2, 2008

University of Colorado at Boulder faculty members Lawrence Carlson and Jacquelyn Sullivan have been selected to receive the National Academy of Engineering's top educational honor, the 2008 Bernard M. Gordon Prize, recognizing innovation in engineering and technology education.

The $500,000 award honors them as founders of the Integrated Teaching and Learning Program at CU-Boulder, which infuses hands-on learning throughout K-16 engineering education to motivate and prepare tomorrow's engineering leaders. The prize will be presented Feb. 19 at a gala dinner in Washington, D.C.

The ITL Program is a widely respected national model for interdisciplinary, hands-on learning supported by an innovative environment that allows students to integrate engineering theory with practice and learn by doing. Sullivan and Carlson founded the program in 1992, and since then have expanded and strengthened its reach within the College of Engineering and Applied Science as well as in local K-12 schools.

They also led development of the technology-rich ITL Laboratory, which opened in 1997 and promotes engineering's human connections through open, interactive, interdisciplinary design and experimental spaces. The transparent design of the building itself helps students and visitors appreciate the inner workings of a complex building, while its many interactive exhibits engage them in understanding basic engineering principles.

The laboratory is essential to the ITL Program's undergraduate curriculum in which engineering students from all departments, beginning in their first year, can take design courses in which small teams develop products to solve real problems. Leadership qualities emerge as teams call upon each member's strengths to create and manage an engineering project from start to finish, and all teams showcase their creations in the semi-annual Design Expo. The first-year design course has contributed to significantly higher retention for all students across the engineering college.

A second element of the program's curriculum is the extensive development and implementation of K-12 engineering education. About 1,700 students in grades three through 12 experience the excitement of hands-on engineering in weekly classes taught by engineering graduate students -- helping them realize that engineering is about making a difference in the world. The classes are a partnership between the ITL Program and six neighborhood public schools in Lafayette as well as the Denver School of Science and Technology.

The ITL team also has played a national role in developing programs for K-12 engineering education, leading the founding of the American Society for Engineering Education's K-12 division as well as heading the creation of the TeachEngineering digital library, a collection of hundreds of standards-based, hands-on engineering lessons and activities available free to K-12 educators around the world. Most of the program's K-12 activities specifically target girls, underrepresented minorities, low-income youth and first-generation college-bound teens.

The ITL Program also has been recognized as a Program of Excellence by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, and it received the inaugural Recognition Award from the Corporate and Foundation Alliance.

Carlson retired as co-director of the ITL Program last fall, but remains active as a professor of mechanical engineering at CU-Boulder. Sullivan continues to serve as co-director of the program and director of K-12 engineering education.

The National Academy of Engineering is an independent, nonprofit institution that provides leadership and guidance to government on the application of engineering resources to social, economic, and security problems.

The Gordon Prize was established in 2001 to acknowledge new modalities and experiments in education that develop effective engineering leaders. CU-Boulder Professor Frank Barnes, who co-founded the university's Interdisciplinary Telecommunications Program, received the prize in 2004.

For more information visit the NAE awards site at