Active Problem Solving and Applied Research Methods in a Graduate Course on Numerical Methods


  • Eric L. Maase Oklahoma State University
  • Karen A. High Oklahoma State University


“Chemical Engineering Modeling” is a first-semester graduate course traditionally taught in a lecture format at Oklahoma State University. The course as taught by the author for the past seven years focuses on numerical and mathematical methods as necessary skills for incoming graduate students. Recent changes to the course have included Visual Basic for Applications (VBA)/Excel and MATLAB demonstrations, activities, and assignments. These computer tools were employed by the students in solving algebraic, ordinary differential equations (initial value and boundary value) and partial differential equations (parabolic and elliptic). During the Fall of 2006, components were added to the course to expose students to case studies, active problem solving, teamwork, and experimentation with an overall aim of promoting creative and critical thinking as students identify and practice the art of modeling. The 13 graduate students during the Fall 2006 course were tasked with a semester project to “Design an encapsulated drug (of your group’s choice) that effectively delivers an appropriate dose for an appropriate number of hours. Select the most cost-effective method.” The students began by creating an initial experimental protocol for their physical model (equipment/supplies needed, data collection procedure), developing computer modeling/numerical methods appropriate for solving the mathematical model, necessary simplifications made to begin the research, and expectations of future considerations that more appropriately model the real system. Throughout the semester the students improved their physical and mathematical modeling abilities to give them appropriate tools to reach the goal of successfully designing and presenting encapsulated drugs. Assessments are presented examining the effectiveness of the team-based, active-learning experience. Modeling, experimental design, experimental procedure and competence, and proficiency in applied numerical methods and computer programming are evaluated.

Author Biographies

Eric L. Maase, Oklahoma State University

Eric L. Maase is a visiting assistant professor at Lafayette College and a research associate in the Laboratory of Molecular Bioengineering at Oklahoma State University. He received his B.S. degree from the University of Maryland, his M.S. degree from the Colorado School of Mines, and his Ph.D. from Oklahoma State University. His research interests include biochemical/biological modeling and simulation, polymer science and tissue engineering, thermodynamic modeling of electrolytes, computational modeling and design, and engineering education.

Karen A. High, Oklahoma State University

Karen A. High earned her B.S. and M.S. degrees from the University of Michigan and her Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University. She is an associate professor in the School of Chemical Engineering at Oklahoma State University. Her research interests are Sustainable Process Design, Industrial Catalysis, and Multicriteria Decision Making. She is a trainer for Project Lead the Way pre-Engineering curriculum. She is also involved with the development of an entrepreneurship minor at Oklahoma State University.