Supporting Authentic Problem-Solving Through a Cornerstone Design Course in Chemical Engineering


  • Eric Burkholder Stanford University
  • Lisa Hwang Stanford University
  • Carl Wieman Stanford University



We have developed an assessment of authentic problem-solving in chemical engineering, which we used to measure students’ problem-solving at the beginning and end of a cornerstone design course. We measured how much problem-solving students learned, and how these students compared with data collected from seniors at the beginning of the capstone design course. Our results indicate the importance of cornerstone design courses, and highlight the need to better integrate problem-solving into the undergraduate curriculum.

Author Biographies

Eric Burkholder, Stanford University

Eric Burkholder, PhD, is a postdoctoral scholar and lecturer in physics at Stanford University. His research focuses on studying authentic problem-solving in undergraduate engineering programs, what factors impact student performance in introductory STEM courses, and mathematical sense-making in physics. He earned his PhD in chemical engineering from the California Institute of Technology. 

Lisa Hwang, Stanford University

Lisa Hwang, PhD, is a Senior Lecturer in the Chemical Engineering Department at Stanford University. She also serves as a Consultant with the Center for Teaching and Learning. She earned her M.S. and Ph.D. from Stanford University and her B.S. from MIT, all in Chemical Engineering. Before graduate school, she worked as a chemical engineer at Merck Research Labs in Rahway, NJ. She is interested in using research-based practices to improve the learning experience of her students. 

Carl Wieman, Stanford University

Carl Wieman, PhD, is a professor of physics and education at Stanford University and the recipient of the 2001 Nobel Prize in physics. He is the founding director of PhET. His research focuses on authentic problem solving in STEM and medicine, student performance in introductory physics courses, and educational simulations.