University Faculty James Huff receives National Science Foundation award

Oct. 5, 2022 |

The National Science Foundation has awarded Harding University Associate Professor James Huff and Oregon State University Professor Shane Brown a grant for $456,631 for their research titled Understanding and Improving Design Activity Engagement in the Engineering Capstone Experience. 

“The central activity of what most engineers do is design, a process that involves understanding human needs and creatively generating solutions to meet those needs,” said Dr. Huff. “Through this partnered research with Dr. Brown and Oregon State, we have the opportunity to powerfully improve the ways that engineering students learn to improve the world around them.”

Harding University’s portion of the grant totals $111,448 for the three year collaborative project. The purpose of the grant-funded research is to deepen the learning experience of capstone engineering courses by understanding how students connect their learning to their identity. Dr. Huff’s primary role in the project will be to support qualitative investigation and use of identity theory in the overall study. 

​​“The goal of the project is to study how engineering students and practicing engineers engage in engineering design in their respective settings (academic and workplace), and what motivates them to make decisions about how to engage in design activity and decisions,” said Dr. Shane Brown, the principal investigator of the project. “Our findings will help facilitate the redesign of engineering capstone courses to make them more authentic and engaging. We will also enhance our understanding of how engineers do their work, which will more broadly improve the preparation of engineering students for the workplace.”

In order to determine how to better prepare engineering students, Huff and Brown have developed the following objectives as part of their research. 

  • Objective 1: Develop a model of design activity engagement and identity motives of students and professionals
  • Objective 2: Expand their model to account for resistance and synergies, alignment and tension between academic and workplace settings and across disciplines
  • Objective 3: Advance holistic and authentic engagement of students in multiple academic settings through extensive collaboration with and training of engineering faculty

In 2021 Huff was awarded — for his research on professional shame — an NSF CAREER grant, the most prestigious individual award given to an early-career faculty member at Harding. It was the 59th CAREER grant awarded in the state of Arkansas and only the sixth at an institution other than the University of Arkansas since the inception of NSF in 1994. 

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