Jun 29th, 2011 by dayoung
Since Dr. Mounir Ben Ghalia arrived at UTPA in 1999, he has been a motivator of students, whether it be as the technical adviser to the robotics teams that won first place two years in a row or mentoring middle school teachers whose students won first and second place in regional robotics competitions. As a motivator, he has also wanted to empower teachers because they play an important role in students’ learning. This month, the Associate Professor in the Electrical Engineering Department successfully won a major grant from the National Science Foundation that will help sharpen high school students’ ability to be successful in their engineering studies by immersing their teachers in relevant research..
Dr. Ben Ghalia’s $483,000 award spans three years and will create a synergistic partnership between many of the engineering faculty at UTPA and teachers in the La Joya, McAllen and PSJA school districts. STEM teachers (those who teach high school science, technology, engineering and mathematics) will apply for the program. Each year, twelve teachers will work in close partnership with UTPA’s Electrical Engineering faculty during an intensive six week summer program.
“For teachers to truly be able to teach and motivate their students to be interested and engaged in STEM subjects, they need more than a one-day workshop. They need their own experiences in doing real research and they need to know how to create their own curriculum for classes based on the needs of their students.” says Dr. Ben Ghalia.
Dr. Mounir Ben Ghalia at home in the robotics lab
Teachers will be mentored by Electrical Engineering faculty members on a variety of engineering research topics, such as distributing electricity generated by solar panels (Dr. Jaime Ramos), wireless power transfer (Dr. Heinrich Foltz), underwater wireless networks (Dr. Jun Peng), control systems for wind turbines (Dr. Mounir Ben Ghalia) controlling multiple robots to act in a coordinated manner (Dr. Wenje Dong) or other research projects by Dr. Yul Cu, Dr. Hasina Huq, Dr. Jae Sok Son, Dr. Edward Banatoski, Dr. Weidong Kuang, Dr. Sanjeev Kumar, or Dr. Junfei Li. Each teacher’s immersion in a research project allows him or her to understand the engineering design cycle in practice, rather than mere theory. Teachers can then develop their own possible solutions to problems using the constructs of the design cycle.
The longer term objective is for the teachers to pass on those same engineering concepts to their own STEM students as well as their colleagues. In the near future, those same high students will become better prepared students at UTPA.
Dr. Veronica Estrada of the College of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction will assist the teachers in converting their practical research experience into good pedagogy for the classroom. During the six weeks on campus, teachers will spend about 60% of their time on research, and 40% on curriculum development. After returning to their high schools, teachers will then be expected to share their new knowledge with their colleagues.
The award is a bit of a coup for UTPA. The Research Experiences for Teachers grants are not restricted to universities in under-served areas. Many of these awards go to schools with high reputations. Previous winners include Rice University, the University of Wisconsin, Rutgers University, the University of Southern California, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Dr. Ben Ghalia’s award is just one more indication that UTPA is moving forward – and another way UTPA researchers can add to the quality of life in the Rio Grande Valley.
For further information, please contact Dr. Ben Ghalia at firstname.lastname@example.org.