With the announcement of bold initiatives, a reimagined campus and a continued growth in enrollment, 2019-20 was a transformative year for STEM programs at Elon. The progress made was further advanced by the February unveiling of Boldly Elon, the university’s new strategic plan, which will guide the College’s investment in engineering, natural and computational sciences through 2030.

The Innovation Quad: a vision for the future of STEM, Elon College

Groundbreaking research. Collaborative courses. A model for hands-on experiential learning in engineering, physics and cross-disciplinary studies. The Innovation Quad, known as The IQ, is an audacious vision for Elon’s future.

The Innovation Quad is among the top priorities of the Elon LEADS Campaign and Boldly Elon, the university’s new 10-year strategic plan, which calls for advancing existing STEM programs, adding new STEM programs and expanding science facilities.

The first two buildings, IQ One and IQ Two, represent a $50 million investment and will house the physics and future engineering departments among mechanical and wet labs, design workshops and cutting-edge technological capabilities. Construction is anticipated to begin in 2021.

Situated northeast of McMichael Science Center and across from the Koenigsberger Learning Center and the Inman Admissions Welcome Center, the buildings will form the cornerstone of the future Innovation Quad intended to be a cross-disciplinary and exploratory learning center.

In some ways, the story of STEM at Elon is the story of how a small liberal arts and sciences college in suburban North Carolina became a national university.

The completion of McMichael Science Center in 1998 led to tremendous growth in STEM enrollment, with undergraduate learning and research happening in every corner, on all four stories. Twenty-one years later, U.S. News and World Report ranked Elon No. 84 among national universities, and the programs inside McMichael have outgrown the facility.

IQ One and IQ Two will relieve the crowding in McMichael and allow for growth in biology, biochemistry, chemistry and environmental studies. Future IQ buildings will become hubs of cross-disciplinary research among the arts and sciences, where undergraduates and faculty mentors will work across fields to solve global issues.

HHMI grant broadens STEM education and inclusion

In fall 2019, the College received a $20,000 Faculty Forums grant by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The university matched the grant for a total of $40,000 to be used to deepen dialogue and practices around diversity, equity and inclusion in STEM education in the College. The goal is supporting all students’ sense of belonging and well-being within the College.

The forums and workshops — extended through 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic — will focus on those issues, with faculty collaborating to increase inclusive pedagogies and best practices within science, technology, math and engineering courses.

In November, a team of faculty members attended the Project Kaleidoscope and Association of American Colleges and University’s Transforming STEM Higher Education Conference in Chicago. Representatives across departments are leading the Faculty Forums initiative, acting as liaisons and sharing knowledge and insights with faculty in their departments. Conferences, inclusive teaching workshops, discussions and pedagogical institutes and surveys will continue through December 2021.

In addition to dedicated faculty liaisons within departments, members of Elon’s Center for Access & Success; Center for Race, Ethnicity, and Diversity Education; and the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning have added their expertise in diversity, equity and inclusion to the forums. It marks the first time those centers have all worked together in a shared effort on campus.

Two students watching a professor working on a project in an engineering building class

Elon’s engineering program advances in ABET accreditation process

Elon University’s B.S. in Engineering program is advancing through the ABET accreditation process — an independent external review to determine if engineering, applied and natural science, computing and engineering technology programs meet professional standards of quality.

ABET is a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization with International Organization for Standardization certification whose team of experts come from industry, academia and government. ABET has evaluated and accredited programs in a voluntary, peer-reviewed process since 1932. Accreditation signifies to students, employers and the industry that a program meets quality standards and produces graduates prepared to enter a global workforce.

Led by Associate Professor of Engineering Sirena Hargrove-Leak, the program submitted the Readiness Review in October. The ABET Readiness Review Committee recommended Elon proceed with the formal Request for Evaluation in the 2020-21 cycle. Elon submitted the Request for Evaluation in January.

ABET’s accreditation process has been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. An on-campus accreditation visit was originally planned for fall 2020 but has been postponed until fall 2021. Engineering faculty and the Dean’s Office continue to prepare for that visit and are completing the required Self-Study Report for the ABET review team.

Students graduating with Elon engineering degrees under the current curriculum will have accredited degree status when the ABET process is complete.

Growing the STEM student pipeline

Elon University is partnering with the national leader in K-12 STEM education, Project Lead the Way. This partnership will advance Elon’s efforts to reach high school students that are interested in STEM-specific fields of study by identifying schools where the project’s curricula are being taught. This knowledge will focus the work of staff to promote Elon’s STEM majors. PLTW currently has curricula in all 50 states encompassing more than 12,000 schools.

Matt Foster presenting his poster during Elon's Spring Undergraduate Research Forum

First four-year class of engineers graduates

Skylar Barthelmes, Matt Foster and Ryan Sienerth became the first engineering majors to graduate from Elon’s four-year B.S. in Engineering program. Their conferral ushers in a new chapter of growth and achievement for Elon Engineering, promising that they will be the first of many to come. The number of engineering graduates in the Class of 2021 will triple. Around 20 are on track to graduate in 2022. More than 50 incoming first-year students have declared engineering majors, with 18 designated Engineering Scholars.

“It’s nice to know we’re getting a degree that’s growing in prestige,” Foster said. “It will hold more weight as time goes on and Elon’s engineering program grows.”

Launched in 2018, the program is the result of nearly a decade of careful and collaborative planning. Faculty and leadership from across Elon gave their time and expertise to create an engineering program that beats with Elon’s heart for service and problem-solving.

The result “embraces our mission as an institution that is focused on relationship-driven experiential education,” said Gabie Smith, dean of Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences.

The curriculum includes yearly hands-on Grand Challenges courses, drawing from the National Academy of Engineering’s 14 Grand Challenges facing humanity in the 21st century, such as clean water access, engineering the tools of scientific discovery and enhancing cybersecurity. At other institutions, those projects are often left for seniors and advanced engineering students.

Undergraduates have the option to concentrate on areas of engineering, including computer and biomedical engineering.

Two students working on an engineering project

Elon Engineering: Building the brand through Capstone Design Projects

A key goal of any engineering program is demonstrating students’ abilities to solve real-world problems. The engineering Capstone Design Project is a forum to showcase students’ engineering capabilities and generate visibility for the engineering program. The 2020-21 engineering seniors will design, construct and launch a floating wetland project on Elon’s campus. This project will emphasize experiential learning, cross-curricular support with the biology and environmental studies departments and serve as a future means of STEM outreach for the Elon community.