My TOM

Preparing students for the future

JANUARY, 2015

Nieck Benes is professor and Module Coordinator for module 2 of the Chemical Engineering degree programme. He has also studied Chemical Engineering at the UT and obtained his doctoral degree here. After obtaining his PhD, he has worked at various places in the Netherlands, such as DSM in Limburg and as an assistant professor at the Technical University of Eindhoven. He eventually comes back to Twente. Nieck believes that the University's educational task is very important, and that the greatest added value for the quality of students and doctoral candidates is the University's primary output. Nieck has just received the education award within the Chemical Engineering degree programme.

Nederland, Plantaardige, Gebouwen, Architectuur

Chemical Engineering

Chemical Engineering is a completely different degree programme to Chemistry. The Engineering aspect is very important, Nieck says. In order to make this difference clear for the students in the degree programme, Nieck has already made sure right at the beginning of the curriculum that attention would be paid to the engineering aspect of the degree programme. "I really tried my best to ensure that engineering received enough exposure as soon as possible in the curriculum". This has been successful! The second Chemical Engineering (CE) module has a strong focus on engineering aspects. "So that the students see what a chemical engineer does, and in what kind of environment they will work".

Common thread in the module

An attempt has been made to ensure that the different parts of the module are properly connected together from a teaching perspective, but also to strengthen the realistic picture of chemical engineering. CE partly shares the second module with Advanced Technology (AT) and Applied Physics (AP), with the Thermodynamics part being provided by Marcel ter Brake. Marcel is the module coordinator for AT and AP and has spent a lot of time on this module. The practicals, the project and the mathematics case are specifically aimed at CE; these components are entirely connected.

The students must directly apply the concepts they are presented with during lectures to practice and incorporate them in an assignment. This assignment consists of the global design of a chemical process with raw materials being converted into valuable end products. Students have to discuss which different pieces of equipment should be used in this process, and how they must be linked together in order to produce the best possible process.

Motivation more important than calculation

The students work on assignments in groups of four. "The focus is very much on the discussions between the students." Nieck indicated that motivation is more important than the calculation. "It is especially important that they can explain why they made a particular choice." In order to apply the presented knowledge to a relevant context correctly, the students must really understand the subject matter, and it will then sink in properly. From the choices and especially the reasoning of the students, you can clearly see whether they have indeed mastered the content. Each group of students writes a joint report based on their findings. Furthermore, they also have to prove themselves individually during an oral examination. "It becomes clear during the oral examination if there is a student who has done nothing or does not understand the contents".

Students' independence

Nieck believes it very important that students learn to adopt an academic attitude. "The student's individual responsibility is the first matter of importance." When students arrive at the University, they must learn that they will have to work independently. At secondary school, the teacher still takes them by the hand, while at University they really have to do things for themselves. "That also means that you must be able to make mistakes; otherwise you do not learn what responsibility is.

Nieck believes that this latter point is still a point of concern within TOM. The consequences of not passing a component are certainly severe and there is a considerable tendency to keep students from making mistakes, while it should be expected that people with a university degree are independent and critical. "You can look at output in many, many ways: you can look at numbers of patents and publications, or at the number of students that graduate, but you can also look at the kind of people that you deliver. For me, the added value of our University, and the Chemical Engineering degree programme, is especially evident in the high quality of our graduates.”