Teaching biology to engineers is a challenge. For environmental engineers, biological principles are necessary to understand microorganisms that are removed from drinking water as well as microorganisms that treat waste in sewage treatment plants and bioremediation field sites. At the University of Cincinnati, we integrated state-of-the-art research in environmental microbiology within our graduate and undergraduate environmental engineering curricula. For the past three years, we taught a novel course entitled, "Molecular Biology in Environmental Engineering." Course evaluations over the past three years suggested that the course was successful for primarily two reasons, namely: (1) the course employed a problem-based learning approach to underlie all learning activities; and (2) experiments were conducted by student teams facilitating interpersonal communication as a primary means of learning from peers. This paper outlines the specific experimental procedures employed in the laboratory, as well as evaluates the results of student input from assessment tools including: one-on-one interviews with the instructor; anonymous student surveys; group interviews with an independent third party; and follow-up surveys conducted with graduates of the course. The results from our three-year pilot study suggest that the approaches followed in this course could be adapted to introduce engineering students to advanced research topics from many fields of fundamental science.

Meeting Name

ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition: Staying in Tune with Engineering Education (2003: Jun. 22-25, Nashville, TN)


Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering


American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE)

Keywords and Phrases

Engineering students; Scholars; Curricula; Environmental engineering; Information technology; Microbiology; Microorganisms; Nutrition; Students; Engineering education

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)


Document Type

Article - Conference proceedings

Document Version

Final Version

File Type





© 2003 American Society for Engineering Education, All rights reserved.

Publication Date

01 Jun 2003