Motivating undergraduate engineering students through real-world applications of biological materials

J. Keshwani, E. Curtis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Agricultural and biological engineering combines the application of biological principles with engineering practices. This combination requires a special set of skills and provides opportunities for professionals to solve a distinctive range of challenges at multiple scales related to food, energy, water, and human health. Accordingly, undergraduate students pursuing these degrees are driven by unique motivations and are likely to respond to teaching methods that reflect these motivations. The objectives of this study were to characterize the motivations of agricultural and biological engineering students and assess their perceptions of engineering and biological materials through their participation in a sophomore-level Engineering Properties of Biological Materials course. Student assignments were collected and analyzed to identify themes. In many ways, the characteristics of the students in this study were consistent with previously published accounts of the Millennial Generation. The majority of students (55%) indicated that their motivation for pursuing an engineering degree was to make a difference or positively impact the world. The students relied on real-world connections to make sense of theory. Over half of the students (57%) reported an increase in understanding of the real-world applications related to testing of biological materials. Overall, the results of this study provide valuable guidance for adapting undergraduate experiences to complement student motivations and prepare graduates to become impactful professionals in agricultural and biological engineering.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1421-1427
Number of pages7
JournalTransactions of the ASABE
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2017


  • Agricultural engineering
  • Biological engineering
  • Biological material
  • Communication
  • Education
  • Millennial
  • Motivation
  • Properties
  • Student

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Food Science
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Soil Science


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