Faculty Project Proposal Summary

Calendar Year 2014 Program



Faculty Name & Department/School: 

Devlin Montfort

School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering


Research Project Title:  Student Understanding of Matter and Mass Balances


Project Overview:  Research in the fields of physics and chemistry education suggest that most college students have difficulty developing a robust understanding of matter, particularly in contexts where understanding and explanation depends on references to molecular interactions (e.g. phase transitions, heat transfer, electricity).  This finding is robust and repeated in multiple contexts, but it has not yet been explored with chemical engineering students.  Furthermore, chemical engineering students at OSU engage in an innovative studio-based course series that is likely different from the lecture-based courses typically studied.  This project is a pilot investigation of engineering students’ conceptual understanding of matter in the context of mass and energy balances.  Students take Mass Balances in Fall, Energy Balances in Winter, and a statistics-based exploration of those concepts in Spring.


What skills will students obtain in this project?  I haven’t worked extensively with younger undergraduates on research, so I’m not entirely sure how ambitious to be in terms of developing their skills.  The table below summarizes my general framework for the types of skills I hope to encourage in development, and an outline of the range of skill levels I’m expecting to work with.


Student research tasks:  The student will (to the extent of their interest and ability) participate in the entire research process for this pilot study.  This will involve specifying research questions, designing an interview protocol, conducting the interviews, transcribing the interviews and analyzing the results.  Conducting and transcribing the interviews will be the core of the students’ work, with as much integration into other aspects of the project as possible. 


Number of hours per week expected of student: Five to ten hours.


The number of study participants can effectively scale the size of the project and therefore the hours worked by the student.  As a starting point the study will be designed to include 10 students.  Estimating about how much time would be needed for each interview, this would equate to approximately 10 hours per week of work.  There is a great deal of flexibility in the study design, and a great deal of uncertainty in the time estimates, so this would provide an entry-point for discussing project budgeting with the student.




Skill Type

Below Expected Familiarity

Expected Familiarity

Above Expected Familiarity

Professional Communication

Student doesn’t understand or honor others’ expectations of “professional conduct.”  Development will focus on building examples of how simple formats (e.g. including a salutation in an email) shows respect for others.

Student doesn’t always recognize differences between professional and other communication styles.  Development will focus on building a repertoire of genres like email, meetings, introductions or progress updates.

Student regularly communicates professionally in our interactions.  Development will focus on general academic writing skills like understanding the common pieces of a research report or article.

Research Practices

Student is not interested in research or learning.  Development will focus on the search for natural curiosity.

Student has never encountered research or structured inquiry.  Development will focus on connecting the student’s curiosity to common practices.

Student has a specialized interest or educational experience that has included consuming traditional academic research.  Development will focus on contrasting experience to my field.

Thematic Analysis

Student believes strongly that qualitative methods are not “real research”.  Development will focus on integration into the decision process to introduce some of the challenges faced.

Student has never encountered qualitative research.  Development will focus on distinguishing it from quantitative research and modeling good practices.

Student shows a natural inclination for finding themes.  Development will focus on how to refine and share intuited connections.




Preferred Faculty Contact Information (email): devlin.montfort@oregonstate.edu


Download student application HERE

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