Villanova’s freshmen engineering majors begin their College experience with a course in the fundamentals of engineering and a multidisciplinary design project. In the second semester of freshman year, students enter into their majors.
Noelle Comolli, PhD, department chair and associate professor of Chemical Engineering, introduces new ChE majors to their field through the fun and relatable process of making chocolate. When asked why she decided on chocolate, Dr. Comolli explains, “I want to teach them the different pieces (unit operations) of a process and how they link together, and chocolate is perfect for demonstrating this.”
Before launching this course five years ago, Dr. Comolli visited the Hershey Chocolate Factory and spent a full day in “Chocolate 101” with chocolate engineers. Reflecting on the experience she jokes, “I learned more about chocolate than I ever wanted to!” Dividing the class periods into a combination of lectures and hands on labs, Dr. Comolli begins by exposing students to the chocolate-making process at a basic level, teaching the chemistry behind it and how the process fits into an engineering model. Labs include looking at sugar fermentation, observing chocolate flow rates and testing chocolate hardness. Throughout the course, a variety of chemical engineering concepts are taught using specific stages of the chocolate-making process.