I’m back!

Yes, I promise. That’s my commitment to you. I apologize for the hiatus, but it’s been for good reasons. So, what’s happened since my last blog post? Here are the experiences I’m grateful for over the past 2 months:

  • I was knighted as a Knight of St. Patrick with friends, family and many amazing people from the College of Engineering. Iam honored and humbled by the entire experience.

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    My roommates (and best friends) and I at the Knights of St. Patrick ball after I was knighted.

  • I went on NFK (Newman Foundation Koinoinia) 121 as a team member where I helped participants return to God and grew deeper in my faith. It was beautiful!
  • I helped film physical chemistry lectures (check out Lecture 24!) to help as one my professor’s from last semester continues to develop and improve his flipped classroom learning style. It’s been an awesome learning experience for me.
  • I traveled to Minneapolis for spring break to job shadow at Cargill for the Cargill Global Scholars program. I learned so much from my mentor about how companies are improving the training of their engineers–I was introduced to a new type of engineering education! And afterwards, I traveled to visit my cousin (a PhD student at the University of Minnesota) and my aunt, uncle and cousin who live in Milwaukee.
  • I’ve been serving as 1 of 2 undergraduates on a Campus Conversation for Undergraduate Education working group pertaining to Integrative, Interdisciplinary and Experiential Education. We’ve been discussing how to improve undergraduate education by making general education requirements more meaningful, increasing the opportunities students of different majors work together, etc.
  • Finally, my pride and joy of the past 2 months: This past Friday, Karen Lamb and I finished our final draft of our paper International Experiential Education in Engineering: a Case Study of Junior Enterprise after 4 months of work and the challenge of writing a draft paper in less than 10 days. We will be published authors presenting this paper at the American Society of Engineering Education’s International Forum during their annual conference in Indianapolis this June. It’s a major opportunity to spread the Junior Enterprise concept throughout the US and I’m so excited!!

So, I think I have a reason for my hiatus. I apologize for committing to posting more blogs and failing at it though. And with that I bring you… (drumroll please!)

A new blog series!

The Joys of Engineering

Last semester, I was in a slump, constantly questioning my future vocation as an engineer. This semester, I’ve realized how blessed I am and how much engineering has taught me. I’m grateful for the challenges I’ve been given because they’ve helped me grow as a person and learn so much about the natural world. I love being on the forefront of technology, developing new scientific advances which will make the world a better place.

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Karen Lamb and I presenting our ASEE paper on Junior Enterprise at a poster session for chemical engineering. I learned so much about joy in engineering from researching the benefits of CUBE Consulting and Junior Enterprise.

With this change of heart, I have noticed a culture of negativity that pervades my education as an engineer: complaining about a professor, being upset over grades, depression over work and studies, etc. So many people tell me, “I just want to go work as an engineer.” One friend confessed to me that she has nervous breakdowns when she has drive from home back to school because being at the university is so stressful. As an empathetic person, I feel overwhelmed by desolation within engineering students.

I want to change this perception.

University is an amazing time for students to grow in all facets of their lives. Our time studying at university should not be spent wishing it were over already. We should enjoy every moment of this academic freedom where we have so many opportunities to learn about anything whether it be engineering, social sciences, history or even faith. College is a journey to the rest of our lives where we will be busy with a normal 9-to-5 work schedule, paying back student loans, creating a family, being members of our community, etc. I want to encourage you to make the most of this journey.

How?

I’m going to write a brief blog at least 3 times a week about the Joys of Engineering whether it be a new scientific development that’s awesome (ie: a possible cure to ALS), something exciting in my own life as an engineering student (ie: becoming a Knight of St. Patrick), or a spotlight on friends who are doing amazing things in engineering. I want to empower you, if you’re an engineering student or even if you’re not, to find joy within your own life every single day. I think that this will also help me to maintain my optimism so that I can try to be a light to others everyday. I believe that if you make the most of everyday God’s given you, you shall find happiness. Take the journey with me and we’ll travel this road of joy together! See you soon!

Credit to Shea Acott’s The Gratitude Project and 100 Happy Days for the inspiration for this blog series. Both movements have been beautiful. I’m so excited to see where this project takes me!

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!

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