BYU professor and student win national paper award

  A paper co-authored by a Brigham Young University civil and environmental engineering professor and a former graduate student was selected as this year's Best Zone Paper by the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE).

After winning at both the local and regional levels in 2007, Professor Rollin Hotchkiss and BYU alumnus Brad Singley recently received national recognition for their paper that examines an affordable method of bringing engineering education to developing countries using computer simulations.

"Dr. Hotchkiss and I were looking for a way to teach a very specialized subject. Computer-based learning seemed like the most cost-effective and time-efficient way to reach these engineers," said Singley, who currently works as a hydraulic engineer in Seattle.

Many developing nations face the problem of sedimentation buildup in their reservoirs, which renders the water they need for crops and daily living useless, Hotchkiss said. Through his work with UNESCO, he was tasked with finding an inexpensive way to train engineers, technicians and students in those countries to solve sedimentation problems.

Using Adobe Flash, Singley and Hotchkiss created an interactive computer program that puts users in the shoes of an employee working at a fictional reservoir. Students collect their own data with tools found in their virtual office and then learn to apply engineering principles just as they would at an actual job site. The engineering "video game" has proven to be an effective teaching tool, Singley said.

Designed to work with computers provided by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, Hotchkiss can see this program being used for more than just engineering instruction.

"It is our hope that this technology would be adopted by colleagues in other disciplines, like medicine, and used in similar ways to extend education to developing countries," Hotchkiss said.

Jason McDonald also contributed to the award-winning paper. All three authors will be recognized next summer at the ASEE annual awards banquet in Austin, Texas. The American Society for Engineering Education is a non-profit, national organization committed to furthering education in engineering and engineering technology.

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