It’s been a while. Work has been busy and I’m currently getting paid to write one blog post a week for Illinois Admissions, so I recommend you go check out some of my posts.

Currently, I’m preparing my last year of college when it feels like I was shopping for dorm room accessories just yesterday. For the next semester, I plan on spending my fall as most senior engineering students do: career fairs, job applications, interviews and site visits. I will be pursuing a full-time engineering role in industry relating to chemicals (or maybe consulting or refining).

But what about my love for engineering education?

Today, I read an article in from USA Today titled 74% of STEM Grads Don’t Get STEM Jobs. A sociologist conducted this research and described her findings, “STEM graduates have relatively low unemployment; however, these graduates are not necessarily employed in STEM occupations.” Even though 50% of engineers will take STEM jobs, only 14% of these engineers are women. It would be possible to seek a job related to science and math education to help inspire K-12 students to be engineers, but this is not where my passion lies. Universities are seeing an increase engineering enrollment, but the country is not seeing a result from this. There has not been an increase in full-time engineers, despite more students studying engineering.

MissPossible

One way my fellow engineering students at Illinois are raising the number of women in STEM (and business and finance and everywhere else) is with their start-up Miss Possible. Click this picture to learn more about their business and their Indiegogo campaign!

So I will help (hopefully) raise the 14% of female engineers and 50% of engineering students in a STEM occupation. I want to work in industry so I can figure out how incoming college students and freshman engineering students can learn and become passionate about STEM jobs. I cannot help narrow the gap between college and industry if I do not experience both. While I work in technical role, I will continue to help improve engineering education through volunteering with organizations like Big Beacon and First Lego League competitions.

Why do I care about Engineering Education?

I care about the 74% because this number cannot be stagnant. I also care about the 100%. Engineering outreach must not simply be “look how cool science can be”. It must show K-12 students what it means to be an engineering. Undergraduate students cannot be cooped up in a classroom talking about theory all day. They must be taught theory and then taken out into the real world to see the application of theoretical knowledge. Everyday, education must add value to the student so that it is not simply discarded after graduation. Instead of projecting something on a PowerPoint slide and saying “you’ll use this someday”, we must give students something that they can use today. We have a growing need for engineers, scientists and mathematicians in this country, but 74% are not employed in STEM fields. I challenge both the academic and industrial worlds to work together to change these numbers. Because if we change these numbers, we will change science, technology, research, manufacturing and so many more integral parts of our society. By improving engineering education, we will change the world.

What about my future?

I could go to grad school for PhD in engineering education. I could find a role within the company I work for that allows me to improve engineering education. I could find a new company committed to improving engineering education. I could be an entrepreneur and start my own company. There are so many opportunities to do so much and wherever I am in the future, I only know one thing: I will be working to change the world, one mind at a time.

Hello! Happy Thursday! This is going to be a short post because I have 2 midterms and group project between now and Monday so I probably won’t write anything until later next week (classes end Wednesday and finals start a week from tomorrow). I do have an announcement though! I have been hired by Admissions to write blog articles for prospective Illinois students! So next year I’ll be writing a post or two for the Admissions blog every week. I’m excited! Now that I shared that news, I’d like to talk about my joy for the day…

My joy of engineering is: my sister.

It’s been hard to be living in another state and see my family so infrequently. It’s even more difficult when I’m so busy that I don’t have as much time to talk to them as I would like. But my sister Hannah? She gets it. She understands that I’m busy and calls me persistently (even while I’m in class) until she gets a hold of me so she can tell me about her week. She supports me and encourages me in everything I do. I just spent over an hour talking to her on the phone instead of studying for my midterm tomorrow and I wouldn’t change a thing. A major joy of engineering is that engineering makes you appreciate the people who are there for you despite the craziness of school and life. When you’re busy and stressed, you need people to keep cheering you on to keep going and being the best you can be. So thank you, Hannah Bakies, for being an amazing sister. I love you, miss you, and can’t wait to see you on May 17.

This may sound strange, but I always looked forward to owning my textbooks in college. In high school, I loved receiving paperback books when we started a new novel because it meant the book was mine. I love to read and add to my own personal library.

In college, I think ownership of a textbook is a student’s opportunity to create a library of resources for use in his or her future career. When I worked at my internship over the summer, my mentor constantly referenced the shelf of textbooks he kept after graduating college. He used these books to answer my questions, ensure he understood patterns in refinery processes, double check design parameters, etc.

Textbooks are a crucial source of learning for all college students. However, textbooks are also extremely expensive. With the high cost of college, it can be difficult to find the means to pay for both tuition and new textbooks at the beginning of a new semester.

A new report surfaced this week on textbooks and here’s what the study found on textbooks:

  • Students spend ~$1200 on textbooks per year.

    2014-02-03 00.48.12

    My Spring 2014 semester textbooks.

  • Textbook prices have increased 82% over the past 10 years.
  • 65% of students do not buy required textbooks because they’re so expensive.
  • 94% of students not buying required textbooks are worried about how this decision will negatively impact their grade.

There are methods to lower costs which were not included in the study. I could have spent $900 on new textbooks this semester, but instead I’m borrowing and buying used books from students for $150. But sometimes, that’s not an option when a brand new book is being used or a new edition of a textbook comes out. Book exchanges and borrowing does not change the fact that textbook prices have a negative impact on students.

Students should not be forced into buying brand new versions of their textbooks. In a digital age, more textbooks need to be available online and through open source technology. If the major cost of printing is taken out of textbook pricing, costs can be significantly lower. These types of textbook media are becoming more available, but not quickly enough to meet student demand. In the mean time, textbook publishers need to search for more ways to lower textbook costs so that students may receive a good education, regardless of their financial situation.

According to Merriam-Webster.com:

sexy

adjective \ˈsek-sē\

: sexually appealing, attractive, or exciting

: having interesting or appealing qualities

sex·i·er  sex·i·est

So a more apt title for this post would be “Engineering has interesting or appealing qualities!” Doesn’t have as much of a ring to it, does it?

Society does not do a great job of making engineering sexy.

This Ryan Gosling meme does a better job at making engineering sexy.

I love the Big Bang Theory, but this TV show focuses nerdy scientist in love with his beautiful neighbor but it takes them years to date because he’s too smart for her. I love my siblings, but when I tried to encourage my brother to consider joining a FIRST Robotics team, my sister adamantly dissuaded him because it would be “social suicide”. We allow children to start giving up when they say, “I’m not good at math” which we would never do if they said, “I’m not good at reading.” As an engineer, I’m a geek and a nerd taking classes that are “way too hard for me” as everyone I ran into in my hometown told me the past four weeks. Not very interesting or appealing, is it?

Currently, I don’t think I’ve been doing a great job of making engineering sexy enough either.

So without further ado…

Top 10 Reasons Engineering is Sexy

(has interesting or appealing qualities)

  1. Engineers make a difference! Whether it’s making things people use everyday or creating new technology to change the world, engineers are making the world a better place every single day.
  2. Engineers are extremely employable! The US needs more STEM graduates which is why the typical University of Illinois engineering student receives at least two full-time job offers
  3. Engineers do cool things everyday! A family friend who graduated last year currently works for GM breaking engines, pulling them apart and then figuring out why they broke.
  4. Engineers can do anything! Are you interested in health care, food, law, or banking? Engineers can create new medical devices such as a contact that monitor diabetics’ glucose levels, manufacture their favorite foods like Hershey’s chocolate, work in patent law or be finance engineers!
  5. Engineers make a lot money! Here at the University of Illinois, engineers have the highest starting salary out of all majors.
  6. Engineers are creative! Engineers are constantly thinking of new ideas so they can make the world a better place.
  7. Engineers can work anywhere in the world! Every country in the world needs engineers which is why many companies offer international rotation programs to allow their employees to go see the world.
  8. The 2008 US Olympic men’s swim team set 16 records.

    Engineers have good job security! The market just crashed? Everyone still needs engineers to fix roads and make daily items like shampoo and laundry detergent.

  9. Engineers have new projects to work on everyday! Instead of sifting through paperwork all the time, engineers constantly have new, exciting problems to solve.
  10. Engineering is always exciting! Everyday, I learn something new about science that makes me rethink the world whether its why water heats up in the microwave but nitrogen doesn’t or how the design of 2008’s US Olympic swimmers’ bathing suits helped them break records.

This talk was inspired by a Big Beacon Twitter chat on January 15. You can read more about it here. Thanks for reading, commenting, sharing, etc. and have an awesome week!

Obama and his administration have placed a huge emphasis on increasing the number of scientists, engineers and mathematicians graduating from US colleges. Reports conclude the US has a major demand for STEM-skilled employees, but not enough job candidates with the necessary skills to succeed in technology heavy fields.

Conversely, other studies state that there is no STEM shortage. These articles assert that there is an overabundance of STEM graduates which is why only half of STEM graduates find jobs in STEM fields.

Which one is true?

The need for scientists, engineers and mathematicians is real. The studies cited for the surplus of engineers fail to look at the increasing needs of all companies, only focusing on technology-centric corporations. Technology is currently advancing at an unprecedented rate along with social media. Every company, even if it only has three employees, must hire a technologist to accommodate with new tech developments.

039

Science education can be interesting and inspiring like when I made nylon in freshman chemistry lab.

The US is currently 17th updated: 21st in science globally as of the new year. This indicates that the United States does not and will not have the workforce of talented STEM-skilled employees to compete with international markets. The best solution to this problem is to increase the number of people graduating with excellent skills relating to math, engineering, science and technology. With more engineering talent, the quality of developing technology and scientific innovations will increase.

Science and engineering education must be improved to produce more talented scientists, engineers and technologists.

Many STEM graduates make careers outside of traditional STEM jobs because they have competing interests. Engineers have an interest in helping to improve the world, but do not always find these job opportunities within engineering. Companies must improve current engineering work environments to harness and utilize the excellent education engineers receive in terms of both upper level science and engineering concepts and problem solving.

With an increased STEM workforce, the US will be able to compete with the international community to develop groundbreaking products in science and technology that will change the world. Students must be inspired to pursue science and engineering so they can develop the next computer, next artificial heart, next Facebook, etc.

We need more scientists, engineers and mathematicians. Encourage the children in your life to become one of them!

After a very long semester, I’m happy to say that I’m back. So, hello again! I hope anyone following this blog or discovering it for the first time is doing well. I apologize for the absence. It was necessary in order to keep my life in order. I came back to Illinois already committed to several organization. I also had a class load that was much more time intensive than what I had experienced in the UK last spring.

So what have I been up to?

2013-11-01 20.33.08

Our CUBE Consulting executive board and project managers at the corn maze near Champaign.

CUBE Consulting: I took on the job as President of CUBE Consulting, the first United States Junior Enterprise, over the summer, searching for projects for this school year. Since then, my executive board and I have successfully recruited 17 new members. My vice president and I transferred planned projects to our project managers and their project teams. We trained our consultants and then watched as our consultants put engineering in practice, solving company’s technical problems. I also started an entrepreneurial speaker series for consultants to learn more from successful entrepreneurs. Want to learn more about CUBE Consulting and Junior Enterprise? Check out this post I wrote about it!

Engineering Initiatives: I joined a new group before returning to Illinois focusing on projects that better the College of Engineering at Illinois. My project last semester was increasing student awareness of necessary documentation for working at an internship, co-op or – employment. My next project will be publicly addressing the fact that chemical engineering is within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, not the College of Engineering, to interested students. Chemical engineers are still engineers and it’s actually very beneficial for chemical engineers to be considered within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Engineering Learning Assistant: I helped teach an Aspirations to Leadership course for freshman engineers. As a leader in several extracurricular activities, I loved teaching a subject that I’m very passionate about. I also enjoyed serving as a mentor to incoming students still adjusting to student life. This course was part of the First Year Experience classes started by iFoundry to create a more hands on, interactive education for first year engineering students which has become a program of the College of Engineering. It was great to be part of such a successful improvement of engineering education at Illinois.

2013-10-19 22.17.14

Some of the ladies I became good friends with this year while helping out at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center on campus.

St. John’s Catholic Newman Center Retreats: For those who don’t know, I’m a Catholic who actively enjoys living my faith. When I left Illinois in Fall 2012 to study abroad, I had just attended my first retreat with the Newman Center on campus. I returned this past fall to assist with another retreat and will be on team for a retreat this spring. I really enjoy this aspect of my life because it helps me grow closer to God and become more involved outside of engineering. I absolutely love engineering, but it’s really important to be diverse! These retreat teams develop my communication and social skills, unlike most of my engineering classes.I’ve made the most amazing friends from being involved. I am already excited for the retreat I’ll be on team for this coming semester!

So this is why I haven’t had a chance to write many any blog posts. I apologize. I’ve been actively investing my time in making a difference for other engineering students. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I’ve been doing just that because actions speak louder than words.

That does not change the fact that I want to continue connecting to engineering education advocates around the world. I want to be a change while also sharing my ideas because I think ideas are what creates action.

My New Years Resolution to You

I am going to blog once a week on Monday at 3 pm CST. It won’t be long, but there will be a post every Monday here about new research and developments within engineering and engineering education. I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you, but more importantly, hearing your thoughts.

Thanks for your support and I look forward to seeing you on Monday!

Last summer, I spent eight weeks in sunny, humid Tuscaloosa, Alabama doing research at the University of Alabama. It was amazing opportunity because I learned a lot about metabolic engineering and microbiology while creating a potential renewable biofuel. The idea was thus: have bacteria generate butanol so that it could be harvested and used as a high energy fuel. However, this was much easier said than done.

2012-07-20 10.27.03

In order to scale up my bacteria research at Alabama, bioreactors larger than would be needed.

After two months of research, I had to ask myself: When will this happen? Will bacteria be the new biofuel creators? Could my research be scaled up industrially? I didn’t feel like my work was making an impact. My research had the potential to save the world, or at least our ozone layer, but there were so many problems with it that needed to be fixed. The bacteria only grew when fed glucose, an expensive form of sugar. It also didn’t produce much butanol because it was acidic so instead it made butyric acid, which couldn’t be used to power vehicles.

For summer 2013, I wanted an internship because I wanted to have a job where I made a difference everyday.

I wasn’t looking for a job with oil. In fact, LyondellBasell was the only petrochemical company internship I applied for because I was extremely familiar with the company. I knew if I worked for them, I would have a great job with meaningful projects while working with nice, enthusiastic people. I was right. Everyday when I go to work, I have to opportunity to directly optimize refinery production. One of my long term projects will change longstanding operational orders. Another project will be used by engineers for years to come to monitor their equipment.

When I end my internship next week, I will look back at my accomplishments and say with pride, “I did that.”

I’m sad to think that most of my chemical engineering professors have only research experience and no industrial experience. Now, I have seen both sides of the coin. There are similarities: both are independent, time-needing and specific projects. However, research is on micro scale, while industry is on a macro-level. In research, I dealt with bacteria and editing DNA. In industry, I climb through 40-foot distillation towers and contactors. In research, I examined test results from extremely accurate, very expensive analytical instruments. In industry, I monitor process variables off of controllers which are not always accurate. One flow meter actually reads in the negatives unless a valve is opened enough!

2013-07-30 13.49.50

I recently attended a scholarship conference through Cargill where we volunteered at a local food bank. The way I felt afterwards is how I want to feel everyday after work.

I feel that my education is to idyllic like a controlled research environment instead of the ever-varying, not-so-steady-state workings of industry. Education needs to work with industry and vice versa to better improve education so that it can teach students what is necessary for industry. The majority of engineering undergraduates will take industrial jobs after obtaining their bachelor’s degree, so higher education must teach students accordingly. If this is done properly, industry will have better engineers and colleges will see an increase in engineering college recruitment for interns and full-time. With education and industry working together to improve engineering education,

What inspired this post: I recently was offered a potential opportunity to help improve design projects within chemical engineering courses to help improve the design projects and make them more relevant to the engineering industry. I’m so excited! Do you have any suggestions? Shoot me an email at bakies2@illinois.edu. I’d be happy to hear from you!

I saw these funny but effective caution signs on the metro system in Rome while traveling.

The din of machinery fills my ears, even when obstructed by earplugs. Above me, pipes soar stretching, twisting, meeting, turning. I follow a large white tube with a finger stretched to the sky. My eyes and feet follow it while my body is carried along for the ride.

Umph.

I meet resistance in the form of a hand belonging to my companion. My mentor points and I turn to see a long chain with an orange buoy attached dangling inches from my face. I would have walked right into it. Even though he probably can’t hear me above the noise or past his own earplugs, I shout a thank you to him. As I turn back to him, he has already moved down the pipe alley towards the distillation column. His blue fire retardant clothing and bright blue hard hat stand out among the metallic surroundings. Gingerly, I catch up with him, avoiding the obstacles along the way.

What is safety?

A dozen scenarios come to mind. Safety is the lifeguard who blows a whistle when kids run at the pool. Safety is a title for scissors with rounded points. Safety is wearing a helmet when you ride your bike. Safety is important.

Chemical plants and refineries especially tend to get a bad rap when it comes to safety. It’s not easy to forget incidents like the recent West, Texas explosion. I think this would be different if safety were integrated throughout the engineering curriculum. Safety should be an automatic habit by the time students leave university in order to prevent as many accidents as possible. Accidents are 100% preventable.

Goal Zero

Should this sign exist? Probably not. But at least it’s warning people to prevent injuries.

At the refinery I work at, we have a policy called Goal Zero. This means that our goal is to have zero accidents always, no matter what. It’s ingrained in our work culture. The refinery’s mission, to quote my mentor, is: “to make as much money as possible while being safe.” Goal Zero means not only watching out for yourself, but also watching out for others and helping them to be safe too. Instead of treating safety mistakes like a punishable act, these mistakes are seen as learning moments so that next time the individual will be safer.

Sometimes safety feels like that unnecessary extra step like a hand on the handrail as you walk down the stairs or following the correct procedure without skipping the unimportant bits or driving the speed limit. One safe action could avoid an accident. One safe action can mean the difference between someone going home to his/her family or going to the hospital. Safety starts with one person.

As college students, it’s easy to feel invincible, despite the wars and sadness described in newspapers. With the incorporation of safety within engineering education, a positive attitude can be formed towards safety. Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Well, safety is a habit too. If we teach safety, we will make the world and some its industrial plants on Earth a safer place.

Want to brush up on your safety knowledge? The American Institute of Chemical Engineers offers a process safety certification course online for free. Learn more about SAChE here!Goal Zero

“Actions speak louder than words.”

I can’t tell you who said this phrase nor when it was said nor in what context. I’m sure Google would tell me if I asked, but I would rather talk about what I do know. I know these words to be absolute truth. Let me prove it.

Who are the most influential people in our world currently? Who impacts your life everyday even though you’ve never met them?

The five different Time 100 covers for 2013.

According to Time Magazine, the top 100 people of our time include leaders such as Barack Obama and Pope Francis, artists like Jennifer Lawrence and Steven Spielberg, icons including Justin Timberlake and Beyoncé, pioneers such as Don Yeomans and Perry Chen,  and titans like Sheryl Sandberg and Lebron James.

I guarantee you know almost all of the people I just listed. And if you don’t, now is the time to use Google because you’ll discover that these people are indeed affecting your life everyday, even though you didn’t know they existed.

Why do these people matter?

Beyoncé performing her song Single Ladies at the Super Bowl in February 2013.

These people along with everyone else on Time Magazine’s list and everyone you think are the most influential people in the world do things. For example, Beyoncé grew up in Houston, the daughter of a salesman and a hairdresser. At age seven, she sang at her school’s talent show and won, beating students twice her age. After this, she pursued music in every shape and form by attending music grade schools, competing in more talent shows and auditioning for singing roles. Today, Beyoncé is known for what she has accomplished as a result of these actions. Beyoncé is known for her songs, her acting in Dreamgirls,  her performance at the Super Bowl, etc. Beyoncé did not sit around at home thinking about how much she enjoyed music. She performed as often as she could and worked hard to become the best musician she could be. Now, she’s admired as one of the greatest icons of our time.

In my opinion, we sit around and think too much in school. Yes, thinking is a critical action and extremely important. But that does not change the fact that a thought only exists in your head and affects no one but yourself. Writings and discussions have more influence, but they are still a far cry away from doing anything. For every hour spent in lecture, an undergraduate is expected to spend three hours outside class working on knowing the material. The methods of doing this consist of staring at notes/PowerPoints/book pages, homework whether it be problems or essays, and other ways to internalize knowledge. There is typically no practical use or application outside of a two-dimensional piece of paper for a full time student until a student has an internship or job.

Within chemical engineering, the closest to hands-on applications a second year student comes is the optimization of a plant process. I don’t consider this to be a proper application of theory because it is a theoretical situation. Students are not able to actually run their design project at a plant so it is nothing more than a project. A plant set-up would be impossible, but there must be a way to bring these applications to student to gain more practical experience. This is why I’m an advocate of project-based learning, despite the difficulties it can impose. Project-based learning is doing.

French author Simone Weil’s book The Need for Roots.

I’m not going to criticize honors courses. I love my honors classes. I do have a suggestion to offer to honors courses though. These classes capitalize on higher thinking, but many do not use the idea of action enough in conjunction with thoughts and words. Some do, for instance when I volunteered to receive honors credit freshman year, but this is not the norm unfortunately. Last semester, I took a wonderful course titled French Intellectual Thinking. Yes, thinking was even in the title. We spent a lovely hour and half twice a week talking about French writers’ works all semester. What if we had taken their writings an actually lived them though? For example, we read parts of Simone Weil’s The Need for Roots where she listed the “needs of the soul” which included responsibility, truth, freedom of opinion, etc. Instead of discussing the importance of these, what if we students had made the effort to live a day without truth or without responsibility? At first it might be fun, but the end of the day, we would realize why it’s a need of the soul.

Barack Obama is known because he is the President of the United States, but he did not get there without campaigning and he wouldn’t be doing his job correctly if he wasn’t constantly acting as the president. He’s meeting world leaders, signing legislation, proposing his own solutions for problems in the US, etc. Ultimately, this translates well to undergraduate students. We wouldn’t be students without studying and homework. However, employers are increasingly looking at extracurricular involvement because these activities are opportunities where we, as students, can actually do something. Personally, I can’t imagine my life without student organizations. So, stop sitting around and thinking; start doing. That is what needs to be happening more and more in students’ lives, adults’ lives, everyone’s lives.

So, do you have an idea? A dream? A thought? Something you keep putting off until tomorrow for when it’s the right time?

Stop waiting. Share your idea, whether you talk about it or write about it. But don’t stop there. After sharing it, do not settle.

Start doing.

 

 

Personal note: I’m working on a follow-up to last week’s post, but it’s not ready yet. I sincerely apologize. I’ll also be on hiatus until June. For the next week, I’ll be in Scotland and Ireland and then I will be returning to the US for the first time since January. See you then! xx

Noyes lecture theater during class at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

In a lecture hall of hundreds, one person stands at the front of the room. This person talks. This person writes. This person presses the button of a clicker to switch to the next slide. This person conveys information he or she believes to be important in his or her method of choice. Behind this person, a multitude of people sit hunched over tiny desks. They scribble frantically and sigh when the slide has been changed to quickly. Their hands cramp. Their pens run out of ink. Some guy in the corner is drawing a unicorn instead of writing down Schrodinger’s equation. After class, most will leave for the next crowded lecture hall with too little foot room. Some people will remember what was taught. Many will not until homework or tests force them too. After the final exam, most people will forget the details the one person believed to be important because most people will only use what was actually relevant to them. A number of people will not remember what was learned and will never use the material.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Universities and colleges exist to educate their students. Universities actively involve three different types of people in the learning environment: faculty, graduate students and undergraduate students. If I compare the populations of these people at the University of Illinois, I discover that 70.1% of the education community at Illinois are undergraduate students. The schools with the smallest student-to-faculty ratio in the country are Bryn Athyn College of the New Church, Principia College, Virginia Intermont College and Williams College with an average student-to-faculty ratio of 7:1. This means that even at the schools with the lowest student-to-faculty ratios, 87.5% of the classroom consists of undergraduate students. On the other hand, the University of Central Florida boasts one of the highest student-to-faculty ratios in the US of 31:1, or 96.9% undergraduates. On average, undergraduates constitute 94.7% of the classroom nationally.

Interactions between undergraduates, graduate students, and professors summarize pictorially.

Interactions between undergraduates, graduate students, and professors in the US summarized pictorially.

Undergraduates, despite being the largest demographic in higher institutional learning, have the smallest influence within their education community. The curriculum is determined by faculty, deans and administrators in compliance with accreditation boards. Undergraduates are not part of the equation. Currently, everyone from business executives to industry to President Obama calls for improvement in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education practices. To fix this, different groups including the U.S. News and World Report, the magazine known for its college rankings, host conferences to which they invite talent managers, policy makers, educators, non-profit organizations, etc. However, these meetings exclude the key demographic that make education a successful institution: students. There is no class room without students.

To improve education, administrators and deans, people in charge of the learning environment who are not actively involved, hold town halls to present PowerPoints for forty minutes and answer questions for twenty minutes from a large audience dominated by professors. In engineering, professors and graduate students, the other 29.9% of the university education community, strive to improve the education of undergraduate students. To implement a new project-based learning (PBL) course at Illinois, researchers interviewed students in the placebo and students in the new PBL class. The physics department offers private tutoring to specific students and compares these students with the rest of the class.

This is not enough.

As an undergraduate student, I listen to more feedback about a professor’s class from my friends than the professor teaching it will ever discover from the end-of-semester surveys. I know the classes people attend solely for attendance points, the classes students want to enjoy but are unable to because of the professor, the classes where amazing experiments blow students’ minds everyday, etc. I also hear about the course material students do and do not want to learn. Sure, bias can be found throughout these narratives, but what students really have to say should not be ignored. Instead of researching students, undergraduates should be invited to the table to take part in the discussions of their engineering education. Young adults will speak their minds openly and honestly when given the chance. Formal research studies give the feeling of a test with right answers. Town halls discourage students from speaking their mind openly in a large room of so many people. A conversation allows for students to feel comfortable in voicing their opinions.

Dinner with Europe Etudes in Strasbourg, France

Dinner with Europe Etudes in Strasbourg, France over spring break. Talking with undergraduate students should feel more like this, a dinner between friends and colleagues, than an interview.

Undergraduate engineers make up some of the best and brightest young minds in the world. Their thoughts and views will change engineering education for the better. Students do not need to be taught pedagogy or classical education practice to help advance their education. The power to make a difference will enable students to critically analyze their own education. College is more than a degree. It empowers student so that they can achieve their dreams. Students are not lazy underachievers who spend all their time on Facebook and Twitter. Students are simply overachievers waiting to be inspired by something bigger than them. If teachers educate effectively, students will want to learn and continue learning, even outside of the classroom. To accomplish this, class must be improved based on undergraduate student feedback. Good undergraduate feedback, not end of the semester survey.

With undergraduates making up 94.7% of the classroom, students should be actively recruited to participate in education discussions. Students are investing their lives when they pay for their college degree in money and time, precious commodities in our world. In education, undergraduates are learners, tutors, dreamers teachers, consumers, entrepreneurs, participants, the future, the past, and the present. Why aren’t students included in the conversation of the education in which they play an integral part? This needs to be changed as soon as possible.

How should engineering education be changed?

Go and ask undergraduate students this question. I don’t care about their age, major, GPA, industrial experience, or engineering education expertise. Engineering is their education. Engage engineering undergraduates in conversation. If given a voice, undergraduate engineers will help re-engineer the curriculum so that it spikes their interest and they learn more. If they learn more, they will be more successful engineers. Then engineering education will be something to be proud of.

Still looking for more? I’ll be posting a follow-up to this idea on how to involve undergraduates in their education within the next week, so be sure to subscribe. Thank you and happy learning!

%d bloggers like this: