Training Students with T-shaped Interdisciplinary Studies in Predictive Plant Phenomics

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Dickerson, Julie
Lawrence-Dill, Carolyn
Schnable, Patrick
Wittrock, Jill
Losch, Mary
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Heindel, Theodore
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Mechanical Engineering
The Department of Mechanical Engineering at Iowa State University is where innovation thrives and the impossible is made possible. This is where your passion for problem-solving and hands-on learning can make a real difference in our world. Whether you’re helping improve the environment, creating safer automobiles, or advancing medical technologies, and athletic performance, the Department of Mechanical Engineering gives you the tools and talent to blaze your own trail to an amazing career.
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Electrical and Computer Engineering

The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECpE) contains two focuses. The focus on Electrical Engineering teaches students in the fields of control systems, electromagnetics and non-destructive evaluation, microelectronics, electric power & energy systems, and the like. The Computer Engineering focus teaches in the fields of software systems, embedded systems, networking, information security, computer architecture, etc.

The Department of Electrical Engineering was formed in 1909 from the division of the Department of Physics and Electrical Engineering. In 1985 its name changed to Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering. In 1995 it became the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

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  • Department of Electrical Engineering (1909-1985)
  • Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering (1985-1995)

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The Department of Agronomy seeks to teach the study of the farm-field, its crops, and its science and management. It originally consisted of three sub-departments to do this: Soils, Farm-Crops, and Agricultural Engineering (which became its own department in 1907). Today, the department teaches crop sciences and breeding, soil sciences, meteorology, agroecology, and biotechnology.

The Department of Agronomy was formed in 1902. From 1917 to 1935 it was known as the Department of Farm Crops and Soils.

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  • Department of Farm Crops and Soils (1917–1935)

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Genetics, Development and Cell Biology

The Department of Genetics, Development, and Cell Biology seeks to teach subcellular and cellular processes, genome dynamics, cell structure and function, and molecular mechanisms of development, in so doing offering a Major in Biology and a Major in Genetics.

The Department of Genetics, Development, and Cell Biology was founded in 2005.

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Modern sensors and data analysis techniques make it feasible to develop methods to predict plant growth and productivity based on information about their genome and environment. The NSF Research Traineeship (NRT) Predictive Plant Phenomics (P3) Specialization implements the T-training model proposed by the American Society of Plant Biology (ASPB) and described in “Unleashing a Decade of Innovation in Plant Science: A Vision for 2015-2025.”[1] The goal of the P3 program is to prepare graduate students with the understanding and tools to design and construct crops with desired traits that can thrive in a changing environment. Students with “T-shaped” experiences will differ from traditional STEM graduate programs that produce students with deep disciplinary knowledge in at least one area. This depth represents the vertical bar of the "T". The horizontal bar represents their ability to effectively collaborate across a variety of different disciplines [2], which is the focus of P3.

The first cohort of students began their training in August 2016 with a two-week “boot camp” short course to introduce the students to the basic topics they will need to succeed. The four-credit P3 core graduate course (Fundamentals of Predictive Plant Phenomics) taken the first year of the program expands upon the boot camp and is comprised of classroom and hands-on laboratory components. The P3 core course has two key objectives: 1) bring all students’ knowledge up to the same level for issues that pertain to plant phenomics, sensor engineering, and data analysis, and 2) begin the process of teaching students the needed terminology to speak across disciplines. A companion paper submitted to the ASEE Graduate Studies Division discusses the first offering of this course. Additionally, the collaborative spirit required for students to thrive will be strengthened through the establishment of a community of practice to support collective learning (i.e., a P3 graduate learning community).

The P3 program is being evaluated both internally and externally. The internal evaluation focuses on metrics such as student recruitment and retention, program outcomes, and student performance. The external evaluation includes pre-test and post-test designs for quantitative assessments of how well the program is developing scientists and engineers with broad skillsets to address the research needs to increase understanding of agricultural production. Qualitative measures include in-depth interviews and focus groups of student students. Evaluation activities follow a recursive design so that the project can be continually informed and improved by the evaluation findings in real time. This evaluation has already been applied to the initial boot camp activities. The overall view of the activities was positive from both the trainees and program administrators. However, the students felt that the introductory sessions should be more hands-on and structured more for beginners in the field. This input will be applied to future designs.

1. American Society of Plant Biologists, Unleashing a Decade of Innovation in Plant Science - A Vision for 2015-2025, in Plant Science Decadal Vision. 2013, American Society of Plant Biologists,. p. 36.

2. T-Summit 2016, “What is the T?”,, viewed October 2016.


This proceeding is published as Dickerson, Julie A., Theodore J. Heindel, Carolyn J. Lawrence-Dill, Patrick S. Schnable, Jill Wittrock, and Mary E. Losch. "Training Students with T-shaped Interdisciplinary Studies in Predictive Plant Phenomics." Paper ID #20006. 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition. June 24-28, 2017: Columbus, OH. Posted with permission.

Sun Jan 01 00:00:00 UTC 2017