The White House announced today that Maura Borrego, an assistant professor in the Virginia Tech College of Engineering's Department of Engineering Education received a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) for the development of methods that will better prepare faculty and graduate students for interdisciplinary research.

Borrego’s award represents the first one given to an engineer in the area of engineering education research.

Borrego was nominated by the National Science Foundation (NSF), which provides grant support for five years through its Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) program. The CAREER award is the NSF’s most prestigious honor for creative junior faculty who are considered likely to become academic leaders of the future.

The PECASE Award is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding scientists and engineers beginning their independent careers. The awards are conferred annually at the White House following recommendations from participating agencies. “Dr. Borrego’s award is yet another huge step for our department and indeed for our emerging discipline,” said Hayden Griffin, professor and head of the engineering education department. “Her work as a researcher and an educator is indeed cutting edge, and will resound in the field of engineering for decades to come.”

“Interdisciplinary approaches are necessary for solving our most critical technological and socio-technological research challenges,” Borrego said. As research fields become more complex, a growing number of engineering faculty and students must adapt to working with researchers in other disciplines who are trained in different methods of evaluating research, seeking evidence and drawing conclusions.

To gain an understanding of the complexities of interdisciplinary research, Borrego is interviewing faculty, graduate students and administrators at four NSF Integrative Graduate Education Research and Training (IGERT) program sites nationwide.

“We hope to develop strategies to help faculty cultivate interdisciplinary skills among their graduate students, as well as assessment tools so faculty will know if the strategies are working,” said Borrego, whose NSF research is building on ongoing work in faculty interdisciplinary collaboration.

The Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech has become a national leader in this field by establishing an engineering education doctoral program, and a redesigned undergraduate curriculum that provides classroom and hands-on laboratory training to more than 1,200 freshmen each year.

Since joining the Virginia Tech faculty spring semester 2005, Borrego has received the 2008 Best Research Paper Award from Division I of the American Educational Research Association and the Helen Plants Award for best nontraditional session at the 2007 Frontiers in Education Conference. She developed and teaches three graduate courses in engineering education assessment and research methods, and has received a certificate of teaching excellence from Virginia Tech.

Borrego received her master’s degree and Ph.D. from Stanford University and a bachelor’s from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, all in materials science and engineering.

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