I’m doing things a little differently for this week’s blog post. Instead of commentary on advocating for engineering, I want to update anyone who reads this on my life because right now my life is really exciting and I want to share my excitement.

So, I didn’t write a blog post for the past because I was pretty swamped with exams and homework. Almost all of my classes this semester have weekly homework which I would complain about I hadn’t written this post last year while I was in Wales. So instead, I’m appreciating the work I’ve been giving and studying hard. Sounds like a good plan, right? I’ll try to keep it up.

Last year at this time, I was in Wales planning a trip to Paris (my dream trip as a former French student) and thinking about which countries I wanted to visit over spring break. A year later, I’m no longer a world traveler. I’m focusing all my efforts into developing myself as an engineer and making a positive impact within the College of Engineering. So here’s what I’ve been up to recently:

As a Knight of St. Patrick, I polished my own sword to perfection.

As a Knight of St. Patrick, I polished my own sword to perfection.

I was recently named a Knight of St. Patrick, an honor bestowed to 8-15 upperclassmen within the College of Engineering who represent leadership, excellence in character, and exceptional contribution to the College of Engineering and its students. It’s one of the highest honors you can receive in engineering. I honestly cannot believe I was picked out of the hundreds of talented applicants, but I am so lucky because it has given me an opportunity to become good friends with other fellow leaders within the College of Engineering. So what’s next? As a Knight of St. Patrick, I’ll be pulling pranks on the College of Engineering with my fellow knights until the Knights of St. Patrick Ball on March 15!

CUBE Consulting continues to thrive, as it takes on 3 new consultants and a new project. We finished one project already this semester for a start up company and will now be working with the Student Sustainable Farms, which I believe will be an excellent project.  I love the work I’m doing with CUBE and cannot wait to see what new opportunities come up this semester. One of my current projects is to find means for traveling to the Junior Enterprise World Conference in Switzerland this August which would put Junior Enterprise USA officially on the map!

The College of Engineering will use a new group, Student Consultants on Teaching (SCOTs), to help evaluate new professors as they learn to teach university classes. One of the deans and an academic adviser run a class on teaching which is required for all first year professors. Part of this class includes a classroom observation and evaluation by the instructors. The instructors would like have students provide a student perspective for this classroom observation.  Last semester, I assisted with the development of this opportunity. Now, I’m excited to be conducting my first observation with the academic adviser in charge of the program. It will be a great way to look at university class instruction from a new perspective. I will also be serving as the student member of a team choosing the recipients of $20,000 teaching grants in engineering through SCOTs over the next few weeks.

CUBE's consultants are hard at work during this new semester accomplishing the next deliverable of their projects.

CUBE’s consultants are hard at work during this new semester accomplishing the next deliverable of their projects.

In Fall 2014, I will be an Engineering Learning Assistant for undeclared engineers, which means I’ll introduce freshman engineers to the University of Illinois and the College of Engineering. I’ll also help undeclared engineers determine what kind of engineer they would like to be. I’m really excited for this unique opportunity to showcase all types of engineering to freshman, but there will be a significant amount of planning (starting now!) in ensuring that students receive the tools they need to be both successful and choose a major. It’s a great opportunity for me to exercise my passion and knowledge within engineering education to create a meaningful curriculum for undeclared engineers to help freshmen determine their future career.

Finally, I’m assisting with a Koinonia retreat through St. John’s Catholic Newman Center, NFK 121 from March 7-9. It’s less than 2 weeks away! I’m really excited and for anyone reading this, I highly encourage you to ask me about NFK 121 if you’re curious because we would absolutely love to have you.

So I’m currently doing all of these things as well as classes, but I wouldn’t have my life be any other way. I love all of these activities and I am so fortunate to work with amazing people everyday. I recently found an excellent quote that describes exactly how I feel about my life right now:

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.” -Steve Jobs

I think I’ve found it.

That’s it from me this week! Thanks and have a great Tuesday!

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.

“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

“A major issue in engineering right now is teaching with PowerPoint,” a doctorate candidate at Swansea University told me in passing.

Students sitting near the speaker of all years and nationalities nodded their heads in agreement, whether they were full-time English/Welsh students, international student, exchange students, or Erasmus students.

Since classes began in January in Swansea, I’ve taken careful note of how my different professors taught their engineering courses due to my interest in engineering education. There are positive differences compared to my year and a half Illinois. For example: a number of my professors incorporate videos in their lectures, which I quite enjoy. However, in contrast, a number of my professors use PowerPoint extensively as a mode of teaching. For instance, one of my required chemical engineering courses that I’m taking at Swansea is thermodynamics.

Everyday my thermodynamics professor uses PowerPoint as his only method to convey information and material to students. Instead of working out problems for his students or showing his reasoning and common mistakes, my professor simply displays calculations that have already been completely finished and perfected. There is no student interaction and we are not shown where he found the values he used in the problem. Instead, we are told and then asked if we have any questions.

How are we students expected to form questions when we cannot work through the problem shown and see for ourselves where we do not understand?

The evolution of learning tools in the classroom.

I and my fellow classmates attend lecture solely to sign my name on attendance sheet. We wait until class is over and the current day’s PowerPoint is posted. Then I spend hours reading through and working the problems out myself because I was not given a chance in class to determine what I did not understand and no longer have a professor available to answer questions he never gave me time to formulate. After this, I must work on a worksheet over material to re-enforce what I have learned. However, I did not learn because of the manner the material was taught to me. So instead I struggle with my fellow students with the little guidance of the problems on PowerPoint, worked out with numbers which seem to appear out of thin air.

Learning is an interactive experience. Assigned worksheets will not add interaction to my education. PowerPoint will not provide me with an education experience. I do not ask for guided learning where the teacher watches over the pupil. I understand the UK education system is even less guided than the American system. However, I do ask for the teacher actually perform calculations and allow for input. It may take longer and sometimes the professor may make a mistake, but it is in catching that mistake that I will find my greatest glory. Why? Because it means that I am actually learning the material instead of simply reciting it like a trained animal. I am an engineer who wants to solve problems, but in order to do that, my professors must do more than teach. They must educate.

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