Amy Kurr gives standards presentation

Amy Kurr at University of Tennessee - Knoxville

When Amy Kurr, a Ph.D. student in Case Western Reserve University’s Department of Macromolecular Science and Engineering who conducts research with Associate Professor Jennifer Carter in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, went to work at Schneider Electric in 2019 after earning her B.S., she knew very little about standards. "I am grateful to have great mentors and colleagues who helped fill in my knowledge gaps, but I continue to hear stories of students being immediately dismissed for industry positions for their lack of technical standards knowledge,” she said. Kurr is making an effort to decrease this gap in standards education for future engineers.

At academic institutions, Kurr shared, standards knowledge and education is typically housed with university librarians. However, there is usually only one librarian assigned to a college of engineering, leaving standards information distant from students. While some universities have professors whose primary focus is to share industry knowledge, such as Professors of Practice and Clinical Professors, these positions are rare.

Another challenge Kurr emphasized was the need for diversity throughout each step of the standards development and refinement process. While the number of women involved in the standards process is higher than it used to be, it is still low. Gender differences, along with considerations for other minority groups, have historically not been considered during the standards evolution process unless individuals took it upon themselves to voice their concerns.

By talking to students, librarians, and professional engineers about the challenges they face with understanding, applying, and developing technical standards, Kurr was motivated to deeper immerse herself in the world of standards. She joined the Standards Technical Panel for Underwriters Laboratories UL-746, the database for plastics, in 2021 and started reading articles related to standards development and education.

Through her connections with Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Kurr connected with Dr. David Icove a UL Professor of Practice in the University of Tennessee-Knoxville's (UTK) Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Kurr was invited to join Icove in his effort to develop a course on technical standards targeted at preparing undergraduate engineers for professional careers. Kurr’s involvement has also impacted her own career path as she states, "(Icove) has been monumental in encouraging me to pursue my Professional Engineering (PE) License.”

It was through her connection with Icove that Kurr was invited to give a presentation on UTK’s campus in June 2022. Her presentation was based on the paper "Standards in Science and Engineering Education" which Kurr and Icove co-authored for the 2022 American Society for Engineering Education Conference and Exposition. After two years of conferences being moved to Zoom because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kurr found great value in presenting in person once again. "The bond you form with people when you meet them in person cannot be matched virtually,” she said. “Knowing that someone traveled hours to be there in person, has prepared for such an event, and is giving you their full attention for a portion of their life that they will never get back speaks volumes."

Both presentations were well received and resulted in the exchange of multiple business cards, break off discussions, and interest for future collaborations as the course develops. “It’s been incredible to see how widespread the support is for this work and I’m honored to be one of the individuals selected to lead the effort,” Kurr said.

Kurr and members of her research team are conducting a survey to see what technical standards challenges individuals face in the engineering fields. The survey can be accessed here.

Kurr’s presentation abstract:

The understanding and exposure to students of standards in science and engineering education programs is now essential to worldwide applications and is a keynote criterion for Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. (ABET) certifications. ABET is a non-governmental accrediting organization that reviews post-secondary education programs in applied and natural science, computing, and engineering. These standards range from the safe use of consumer products to wireless technologies in fire and security systems. This seminar provides an update on the progress made in co-developing a course module on Standards in Science and Engineering Education. This course exposes and educates engineering students on the applicable standards in their respective fields. Variations of the module address the engineering study curriculums and allow for easy insertion into existing lower-level semester-long engineering courses. Upon final review of this course module, it will be distributed at no cost to colleges and universities worldwide.