A student poses on a laptop webcam feed next to a remote controlled car during a project demonstration.

ASU engineering success for all online graduate students


Monique Clement

An engineering workforce that reflects the makeup of a global society can better design the electronics, software, infrastructure and other systems we use on a daily basis.

The practice of exclusive admissions at top engineering schools — accepting only the top students guaranteed to be successful — does not help bring in a diverse group of students that will help us innovate and better serve society.

Exclusivity doesn’t have to be the marker of a top engineering program, and Arizona State University believes it should be the opposite.

With a top goal of inclusivity enshrined in its charter, ASU believes all students can be successful. The Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU is committed to this view and applies the university’s strengths in access, inclusion and innovation to develop a strong online engineering graduate degree program.

Following this inclusive approach to engineering education, and despite the value placed on exclusivity in rankings, the Fulton Schools’ online engineering graduate program has consistently ranked in the top 15 of U.S. News and World Report’s Best Online Engineering Programs Rankings.

In 2018, the program continued its upward trajectory by earning the ranking of 11th in the nation, reflecting the program’s strengths in student engagement, services and faculty credentials.

“We are focused on reimagining engineering education, providing online students access to the most innovative learning platforms, learning experiences and student services to master content and apply this newly acquired knowledge immediately in the workplace,” said Jeff Goss, assistant dean and executive director of global outreach and extended education.

With around 500 online graduate students from around the world, the Fulton Schools’ inclusive online engineering graduate program is helping to prepare a diverse workforce for today’s global industry.

Eduardo Pereira, a senior research engineer at Cummins earning his master’s in the online Quality, Reliability and Statistical Engineering program, chose ASU and the Fulton Schools because of the school’s reputation, affordability and the quick application process. The quality of professors, supportive staff and content of the courses are helping him be successful in his career.

“I believe that what I’ve learned, especially the applied statistics part of my program, is helping me get a unique perspective that not many people possess, especially young professionals like me,” Pereira said.

Senior Lecturer Benjamin Mertz (right) talks with a student on camera as part of the filming of an online lecture. The Fulton Schools are investing in facilities, tools and staff to enhance course materials for online engineering students. Photo by Andrew Bautista/ASU

The Fulton Schools and Global Outreach and Extended Education team have invested both inside and outside the virtual classroom to help all Fulton Schools online graduate students to be successful in their academic and career endeavors.

Driven by the understanding that creating an active learning environment better engages students in the content and enhances their learning experience and success, Fulton Schools are investing in ways to advance the quality and consistency of the online graduate program experience, including new studio facilities, technology and personnel with knowledge of online education best practices.

“We want to create learning environments that remove the boundaries of time and space,” said Scott Mahler, director of digital immersion for Global Outreach and Extended Education at the Fulton Schools. “By providing the affordance for students to engage directly with their instructors and peers as well as opportunities for meaningful practice to apply theoretical concepts, we believe we can improve the student experience and outcomes.”

Instead of recording an on-campus lecture directed at on-campus students physically in the classroom, new studio facilities and a team of learning theory experts help faculty create lecture materials and learning experiences directed specifically toward the online learner.

Additionally, the online engineering program’s lecture formats are evolving into shorter segments with interspersed opportunities for students to interact with the content, opportunities to ask and answer questions and get immediate feedback to better help gauge their progress. For example, online software engineering graduate students can access an online coding environment where they can practice writing code and get immediate feedback upon submitting their work.

An online student participates in a research poster session via webcam on a mobile, remote-controlled monitor. The Fulton Schools seek to engage online graduate students in experiences that will help them be successful and transcend traditional online education. Photo by Jessica Hochreiter/ASU

The Fulton Schools also consider co-curricular programs and opportunities as formative as academic and classroom experiences, so online education and student support staff are looking into how to best serve online graduate engineering students in extracurricular research, symposiums, guest speaker presentations and other opportunities.

Online students are already able to participate in these co-curricular activities through live streams and remote attendance through video conferencing.

Outside the classroom also extends to services that help ensure students are successful in their academics and careers.

Virtual office hours, tutoring and advising help online students with their academics and are facilitated through video conferencing and other online chat services. ASU is also developing a Slack-like tool called Pitch as a way for students to interact with advisors as well as to create a student community.

In 2017 ASU introduced a success coaching team to talk with students and direct them to services that will help them succeed. Additionally, ASU has created a research and data-based methodology to create a model for a system that triggers an intervention from a success coach when students may be struggling and need the help of their coach without the student having to reach out.

As online graduate students are often already working professionals, the Fulton Schools are also working with the Career Center to get a better understanding of what would best help students who are mid-career or planning career transitions.

As 2018 gets underway, the Fulton Schools are looking at ways to continue to expand the online graduate engineering program’s focus on modular, stackable and open scale learning. The goal is to develop new methods to educate at scale and make education more accessible by researching and evaluating graduate offerings that implement modular approaches with different pathways focused on student success.