So it’s been about a week since my last post and I have an essay that counts for my whole final grade of my British Culture and Politics since 1945 that is due in less than a week… so that means it’s the perfect time for a new blog post! (Mom and Dad, don’t worry. I promise that the essay will be started finished soon!) Anyways, let’s talk about fun things!
With my pre-sessional class, we went to the city of Bath this past weekend for most of Saturday. If you love old English novels, then you’ll recognize Bath to be the town where characters in novels would visit on vacation and always seemed to adore. Trust me, they were right to love it. Bath is also the home of one old English novel writer: Jane Austen!
The first thing we did upon arrival was meander over to the Roman baths and take a self-guided tour. Bath was built over two thousand years ago by the Romans around the hot springs of Bath as a recreational and religious center. So imagine having a super popular recreational center and a super popular church right next to each other and that was Bath thousands of years ago. It’s amazing how much of the ruins are intact and they did a great job of maintaining the original buildings while showing what the baths would have looked like in their prime during the second and third century A.D. There was also a separate chamber that’s been untouched since it was built with a private pool to the god Solena that the baths were built to worship. Looking at them was like looking at a window into the past.
After walking with the Romans, we went to the Pump House, one of the oldest tea rooms in Bath. This was where Jane Austen might have had tea way back when. We had tea in a grand room seated very close to a live pianist who serenaded us for one very lovely hour. And by having tea, I mean we received a pot of loose leaf tea (English Breakfast, a personal favorite!), a strainer, a pot of hot water, a small pitcher of cream and a bowl of the largest sugar cubes I have ever seen. Sam and I absolutely adored it. I don’t think I stopped smiling for the rest of the day after having such a glorious cup of tea.
Finishing tea with Jane Austen, we visited Bath Abbey, a massive old church. I can’t even tell you how beautiful it was and took about a thousand pictures. I have always had a fascination with churches and I can’t wait to see more throughout my stay in the UK and travels throughout Europe. Bath Abbey was simply magnificent and I’ll leave it at that because words truly cannot describe it.
Next, we decided to simply wander the streets of Bath and walk into a few shops. The Jane Austen Center was unfortunately closed, but we do want to go back to Bath at some point and continue exploring the lovely city.
Aside from Bath, there has not been that much going on. It snowed again last week which means everything in Swansea simply stopped because we got an inch of snow. The buses stopped running and people kind of freaked out. On the bright side, the snow made everything including my walk in the student village from my flat absolutely beautiful.
We signed up for classes this past Friday which was stressful because not as classes worked out as we would have liked. But everything is okay now and I’m content with how things ended up. I should be learning a lot this semester and it will be really interesting. After signing up for classes, we were invited to have wine with the professors and our dean which was quite strange. In America, colleges strive to remain so unattached to alcohol that it’s really quite odd to have alcohol ingrained within the university at such a high level. At least it was classy? Still, not something I’m used to and I’m not really sure what I think.
For now, I think I’ll simply stick to my classes which started yesterday. We’re in class quite a bit less here (only a couple hours a day!), so it’ll be nice to have free time, get involved with societies (AKA clubs to Americans) here in Swansea, and (of course!) travel. I hope everyone’s week is off to a wonderful start!
For the past two years, I’ve been extremely fortunate to mentor a FIRST Lego League (FLL) robotics team of fifth and sixth graders. To be honest, I’m a little jealous of my mentees and wish FLL had been offered in my area when I was in junior high and high school. The first semester of my freshman year of college, the Society of Women Engineers chapter at Illinois was looking for college students who wanted to mentor robotics teams. I volunteered, thinking that I had enough knowledge from the Lego robotics I did in my AP physics class. Oh, how wrong I was. I can easily say that it has been of the most difficult and rewarding activities of my college career thus far. I also believe that I’ve learned more from the kids I work with than I’ve been able to teach them.
FLL is a great example of where engineering education is going as well as an opportunity for anyone in K-12 education to get interested in really being an engineer (or at least knowing what an engineer is). Woodie Flowers, an MIT professor and distinguished partner of Olin College, started the original robotics competitions aimed at high school students in 1989 which were aimed for more middle school and high school students. FLL, for middle school students and younger, began in 1998 as a pilot program with only 210 participants. In the past fifteen years, it’s expanded to reach over 200,000 students in over 60 countries just under 20,000 students participating in the competition this year.
The FLL robotics competition’s main component that people recognize is the robotics component. Every year, a theme is announced and then missions relating to the theme are set up on a table in the form of an obstacle course of sorts. This year, Senior Solutions missions included using a computer and lifting a weight for exercise. To complete missions, students design the body and other motor components for their robot. Then they program the robot to complete the mission(s) using a straightforward language designed by Lego. Children can decide when the robot should move, which motors should move, how long it should move for, and also play with sensors (light, ultrasonic, etc.). In the competition, they even have to explain their methods to judges. It’s a great guide to programming that’s actually fun (which is more than I can say about my experience with C and Unix programming in CS 101).
Though the mission aspect of FLL is the most well known and prominent aspect, it is only one of three main components. Another component is a research project which also pertains to the theme. Students pick a problem and develop a solution to it that is not necessarily related to robotics. In 2011,  my mentees chose the Food Factor problem of salmonella contamination in chocolate, a favorite topic of theirs. They proceeded to talk to a CEO of small chocolate company and came to the conclusion that probiotics to decontaminate chocolate. They then wrote and performed a skit presenting their idea.The research project allows kids to take a problem that they care about and empowers them to do something to fix it.
The mission and research components of FLL are accurate representations of engineering and are wonderful ways to get students interested in the STEM fields. The final component in FLL however is not often found within engineering education today and this is the point I want to end with. FLL has a teamwork (Core Values) aspect to it that gives students an opportunity for the group of FLL participants to show how programming and researching has turned them into a team that works together and listens to each others’ ideas. Engineering education does focus on group projects, but groups are not teams. How often does one person do all of the work while another does nothing? How often does someone try to speak up only to be overshadowed by another? How many students (college, high school and middle school) can actually say they enjoy group projects?
How the typical student reacts when asked i
f they’re excited for a group project
FLL focuses on its two trademark words: gracious professionalism (high quality work which values others) and coopertition (kindness and respect that allows people to learn from one another even during competition). These are necessary qualities for the real world because being an employed engineer means working with other people every single day. One must be able to communicate and listen to other people, but employers often complain of engineers lacking such social skills, making teamwork almost ineffective. FLL wants to change this by emphasizing growth as a team. Most universities fail to put such value in teamwork. So please, do me a favor. Next time you’re doing a group project, focus on working together instead of only doing your part of the work. It will be amazing what your team is able to accomplish.
If you would like more information about how to support FIRST Lego League robotics, please visit this website for more information.

Well, I guess should tell you all that I am alive, well, and currently located in Swansea, Wales according to Facebook. And this is all true. Traveling was crazy because all of the great little plans I made completely backfired. My flight from Detroit to Chicago was delayed so much that I ended up flying to London out of Detroit. My international SIM card caused my phone to be completely locked because Verizon is stubborn and doesn’t internationally unlock your phone until the fourth call. But I found Sam and we enjoyed a nice three hour train ride to Swansea together eventually Saturday afternoon. When we finally found where we were living, we ordered Chinese take out and then passed out for twelve hours, with my three jackets I wore to the airport as blankets.

Class started on Monday. Right now I’m taking a two week course on British culture and politics since WWII. We get to focus on movies and music along with politics, so it’s been pretty interesting so far. The professor is wonderful (mainly because he loves making Doctor Who jokes) and the class has great information as well as field trips! On Monday afternoon, we went to the Gower peninsula south of Swansea and it was beautiful.
It was also quite windy. And full of sheep!
The class also includes seminar classes, the British version of discussion. Sam and I are in different seminar groups, so Tuesday while she was in class I decided to take a walk to find the Catholic church, which I knew to be about half a mile from campus. There was a park in between me and the church. Unfortunately for my boots,  I decided to walk through the park and ended up in a marsh area that should have been a path…
But it was a beautiful park, so I didn’t care!
There were also botanical gardens and stuff is still alive and flowering here! Around this time, I had someone ask me if my accent was Australian, which was amusing.
I found the Catholic church, but it was locked, so I couldn’t go inside. There was a beautiful shrine to Mary though.
On the way back, I walked through the other side of the park along a duck and swan pond. The swans here are huge! Unfortunately, I was running late so I couldn’t get a very wonderful picture.
Thursday, I decided to acquaint myself with the library which is quite large and also partially underground, like Illinois’s undergraduate library. While wandering around, I found every sophomore chemical engineer’s favorite books:
Yesterday, we had a snow day with less than two inches of snow. Obviously, a huge deal. I really wanted to go explore Mumbles, a small beautiful village south of the university, after hearing so much about it from a cousin who lived here for a short time, but the buses were barely running. So instead we found a cheap, delicious, true British dinner. I tried wine legally while all my fellow classmates at Illinois were still finishing their Friday classes. While finding a place to eat, we also stumbled upon the ruins of Swansea Castle which is literally in the middle of city, surrounded by brand new buildings. Welcome to Europe?
My class today was supposed to take us on a field trip to a history museum and a coal museum, but it’s been castled because the roads outside Swansea are still less than ideal. Slightly ridiculous, but now I have the perfect excuse to visit Swansea’s Market, one of the best open air markets in Britain. So I’m off to go explore. I hope everyone had a wonderful week back at school! And I hope everyone enjoys the weekend together, happy to be reunited with each other. I miss my friends and family and I’m really happy to share my adventures with you all.
Thank you so much to everyone’s support of my last post and the start of this blog! It means a lot to me and I hope you continue to enjoy these posts. When I first started thinking about engineering education, it was in response to a USA Today article which focused on Olin College. I did not realize the connection Illinois had with Olin at the time, but I soon learned. Olin College is a remarkable place. Let me explain.
In 1997, Olin College received its charter from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, but the first class did not set foot in it until 2002. In 2007, the school became fully accredited by ABET for electrical and computer, general, and mechanical engineering. It has only approximately 350 undergraduates (1/100 of University of Illinois’s population) and a 16% acceptance rate. But these are just the numbers.
What makes Olin College special?
Olin embodies what engineering education should be.
While most first year undergraduate students are stuck in chemistry and calculus classes, Olin students are designing a device that climbs up a glass wall without leaving a mark. Students use their knowledge of how animals use and apply it to machinery. Their professor knows that students may not have perfected Newton’s laws and the nuances of C++ programing. Students are still allowed to work on a meaningful project that is actually engineering related such as this biomechanics project.
At large universities like Illinois (or really any engineering university with a population over 5,000), the main way for first- and second-year students to be involved in engineering projects is to find a club, research or internship. Clubs and research are wonderful experiences, but it can be hard to be overly involved in design processes on top of going to classes. Internships are fantastic opportunities, but it is very competitive for underclassmen. Many companies would rather have upperclassmen intern for them because they have more technical experience and can be future full time hires if their work is satisfactory. To be fair, most universities are now trying to add more design projects into the first-year experience. This is partially due to ABET requiring constant improvement of the engineering curriculum as well as the NSF forming engineering education coalitions from 1990-2005 which focused on the improvement of the quality of engineering degrees by increasing minority and women enrollment, improving the first year experience, etc. The improvements are still far from perfect though.
I brought up the fact that my current chemical engineering curriculum thus far has been devoid of meaningful problems to a professor in charge of one of chemical engineering’s major senior design projects. He countered this statement by explaining how difficult major projects are to administer and grade, detailing the meetings at seven in the morning with students solely because it was the only time it worked with the students’ schedules. The projects integrated into first and second year classes are not the senior design level courses though. They do not need to be the focus of the whole class. Smaller projects designed to showcase concepts would suffice if they can be devised. If there are issues administering or grading, students can be used to help one another. No one wants to fail. Everyone wants to be proud of what they’ve done and help others with the knowledge they gained. If a project can be devised, I think these simple facts could be used to help assist professors in the task of administering the project. Currently, Illinois is trying to do this using Intrinsic Motivation courses where midterms are replaced with projects students choose based on their interests, with a fair amount of success.
Olin College is making leaps and bounds in engineering education. It’s currently the shining college on a hill for engineering education. The professors at Olin are young enthusiasts with ideas as bright as their students. Olin’s mission is to continue to contribute to engineering education every year of its existence, to never stay static. It wants to make other universities think about engineering education in a different light. Engineering education is not simply basic science and math courses for the first two years and then “real engineering”. No, the focus is on continually learning by throwing students curveballs of new things they may not have learn and watching budding engineers thrive off the challenge, learning and creating. Olin students complete their engineering curriculum with a final project where students work on real industrial problems with companies and partner organizations of Olin (Penn State has a similar program called the Learning Factory.). Projects can be trade secrets of companies such as HP or future student businesses such as a remote controlled bartender with four different drafts of tap.
The Official Dilbert Website featuring Scott Adams Dilbert strips, animations and more
How do we add projects without everyone feeling like this?
Olin College has centered its education curriculum on project-based learning, but this is easy to do at such a small school. Other universities, including Illinois, are still trying to implement courses such as Olin. If you are interested in learning more, The Olin Experience is a great article and Illinois does have an exchange program with Olin. Project learning is necessary for engineering education and there needs to be more of it, especially for underclassmen. The only question is: How? How do we replicate a large scale Olin College? Sound off in the comments below. I’d love to hear your opinion! Thanks!
When I get an idea into my head, it’s not easily dislodged. In seventh grade, I took a career aptitude test telling me I should be a chemical engineer. Since then, I haven’t looked back and I based my life on being a chemical engineer. Six years later and I’m planning to go graduate school and obtain a PhD in chemical engineering or something related to it. So it comes as no surprise that last year when I decided that I wanted to study abroad in the United Kingdom, I turned this desire into a reality. After having one friend, Lindsey, attempt to find somewhere to study in the UK and be saddened by all the dead ends she turned up, I wanted to make studying abroad happen not only happen  not only for me but also for Lindsey.
Ever since I read Harry Potter books one through four during third grade in less than a week, I have found myself interested in the England and the UK. When I was ten, I think I simply wanted to go to Hogwarts and become best friends with Hermione. But as I continued to grow and mature, I simply enjoyed the idea of far off travel to beautiful cities such as Rome, Paris and London. As a college student, study abroad allows me to travel and see Europe while I’m young and can simply stay in hostels and ride the trains to my heart’s content. So I worked hard to find an English-speaking university where I could take courses without being set behind in the chemical engineering curriculum. And after countless meetings with study abroad and academic advisers, it worked!
So from January 12 through the end of May, I will be studying abroad at Swansea University in Swansea, Wales. This includes taking fifteen hours of class credit, including twelve hours which count toward engineering, a three week spring break, and lot of weekends for exploring Wales, the UK, Europe, etc. And even as everyday draws nearer to my flight to London, I still can’t quite believe that I’ll be across the pond in the land of Harry Potter, Doctor Who and tea and crumpets.
Am I nervous?
Maybe a little bit, but I’ve always been adventurous. I spent over two months in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and this coming summer I’ll be in Houston for even longer. This may be a step into an unknown, but it’s also the opportunity of a lifetime. During my time in Alabama this past summer, I developed an appreciation for the people I worked for and got to see what life was like outside of the Midwestern states of Ohio and Illinois. I even got a taste of Peruvian life from Benjamin. This semester, I get to live and experience the culture of the UK and become friends with people who are wonderfully different from me. I am so lucky to be afforded this opportunity. And I can’t wait to share it with you as I begin a new segment of this blog. The next adventure is afoot and I am so excited to make all my family and friends at home in the US a part of it. Let’s go explore!
Whenever I meet new people at my university, I receive the same response upon telling people that I am a chemical engineer. “Oh, that’s hard!” some fellow engineers exclaim. Others shake their head and tell me solemnly, “I have some friends in that. They want to die.” Other such remarks are made which are equally discouraging. It is rare that any positive comment will be made upon the pronunciation of my major, excluding the rare remark as to how much money I’ll make when I graduate. But is that the only reason that I’m putting myself through what so many outside of engineering declare to be torture? Is that all I’m after? A paycheck?
I am the daughter of a lawyer and a dietitian, two working parents. I have never known much hardship in terms of income. If I was focused on income, I could be following in my father’s footsteps and working towards a law degree. However, my father never encouraged me to do this. He always wanted to me to find my passion and do what I loved. Granted, I always thought that history was really interesting, but I never pursued it as a career because I viewed this option as a limitation. That was my view and my decision though. If I had set my heart to become an American Studies professor with an office full of books and millions of dollars in student loans, I like to think my father would have supported me in such a quest.
I am fortunate that I pursued chemical engineering as a career. After a year and a half, I can proudly say that I chose the right major, despite the ups and downs. However, not everyone can say the same. During my time at school, I have watched numerous people switch out of engineering for business, math, biology, and majors not even remotely related to engineering such as music and journalism. I’m happy to see these people find their passions, even if those passions are elsewhere. This does not make me sad though. Usually my friends within engineering who suffer are the ones that I am pained by.
The most difficult thing for me to watch are the people who stay and truly love engineering but find themselves constantly discouraged by the negative atmosphere of engineering, weed out courses, etc. A good friend in agricultural and biological engineering struggled with physics electricity and magnetism this past semester. Not only did her grades dishearten her passion for engineering, but she was also mad that she had to take a course that to her had no relevance to her future. Even in college, we still learn things that have no apparent relevance to our future.
I do believe that all of the classes engineers are forced to take will at least be slightly useful to us someday, but it is difficult to see how when one is stuck in the never ending class sequence of mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology with no engineering courses in sight. In the traditional engineering curriculum of most colleges, only juniors and seniors are exposed to “real” engineering. This brings me to the other problem with the current system. I have observed so many juniors and seniors come to realize that they actually hate engineering, or their specialized engineering major, after finally being exposed to real world industrial problems and seeing what engineering really is. But by this time, the upperclassmen are unable to switch without extending their graduation date by at least a year. So instead, they are stuck doing something they hate. I know chemical engineers who find jobs as finance and software engineers doing as little as possible with chemistry and chemical engineering because of this.
Over the past few months, I’ve realized that I’m being called to help change these current problems with engineering education. I want to change how engineering is taught in higher institutions. I don’t know exactly how, but I’m doing my best to get involved in anything and everything relating to engineering education. I’m hoping that by starting this blog I’ll be able to continue to connect with people across the United States and around the world that are just as passionate about engineering education as I am. These posts will range from case studies on different universities with innovative programs to ideas to general observations and really anything that comes to mind. I hope that you will subscribe to my blog, comment on posts, email me, share these with friends and anything else in order spread the movement. Thank you so much! Together, we can engineer the change.
%d bloggers like this: