Hello! Greetings from my textbooks, notebooks and piles of practice exams! Yes, that’s right. It is currently finals week here at the University of Illinois. Only a few more days until summer! But until then, tests which cover everything you’ve been learning (or were supposed to learn) over the past few months must be completed which will determine your whole future. No pressure. Currently I’ve taken one final, have two more tomorrow and my last final will be Friday morning. Then I get to move to Michigan and start work on Monday. Yep. I know. It’s a quick turnaround, but it’s exciting! So, I haven’t written a Joy of Engineering post because I’ve been stuck under quite a few textbooks, but I wanted to find joy in finals, so here we go.

My joy of engineering is faith.

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NFK 118 Chapel Cover, helping out with a church retreat earlier this school year.

As many close friends know, I’ve experienced statistically significant spiritual growth over the past year. When I lived Houston, I really struggled to find God in my life because I had no community or support in a city where I knew very few people. Upon returning to Illinois, I slowly increased my involvement in the Catholic community on campus. When I encountered struggles, I always had friends with in this spiritual family to fall back on who loved me and guided me in growing closer to God. Even though this semester was even busier than last semester, I was able to serve on a retreat and increase my attendance at daily mass and prayer time. And I found so many more joys in my life, even though I was busier. God is responsible for my joys. In Him, all things are possible. And so my joy of engineering is faith.

My joy of engineering is faith because I know that whatever happens with final exams, God has a plan for me. I have faith that my studies will be well spent just as the time I take off of studying to go to daily mass or go pray in the chapel will also be well spent. I have faith that God will help me grow in whatever way he sees fit and that he will help me succeed this week. By succeed, I mean take finals to the best of my ability. I do not want to define my success by a grade on a final, but by how these exams fit into God’s plan for me and how they help me grow closer to God. I find joy in knowing that I am not alone through the struggles of studying and completion of challenging final. I have faith. I have God.

Regardless of your beliefs, I think you should also find joy in having faith in yourself. Never ever think that you are stupid or that your questions are dumb as you study for finals. Instead, look at your textbook and admire how many chapters of new material you learned this semester. Redo homework problems you struggled with and be amazed by how much better you understand them. Take joy in having faith in yourself because you have learned so much and have conquered the semester.

I cannot begin to express my love and gratitude to my friends who have shown me Christ over the past year through Koinonia, small group, mass, etc. Thank you to all of Illinois’s Catholic community for being fellow children of God!

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!

When I moved to the University of Illinois as a freshman, I knew no one on campus. I grew up in a suburb of Toledo, Ohio. When the University of Illinois is mentioned, Ohioans frequently respond, “Oh, I love Chicago!” Actually, the University of Illinois’s main campus is located here in Urbana-Champaign, about 2.5 hours south of Chicago.

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WIMSE took a trip to Chicago freshman year where we visited the Museum of Science and Industry and took these pictures.

So I chose to live in the Women in Math, Science and Engineering (WIMSE) Living-Learning Community for my first year at college. A living-learning community is a floor (or several floors, in the case of WIMSE) where people of similar interests live. WIMSE consisted of three floors of at least 50 girls each who were studying subjects related to math, science and engineering. As a freshman who knew no one at a school of 40,000+ students, I felt at home because I lived in WIMSE. I found friends, study buddies, people to go swing dancing with, and so much more from the ladies at WIMSE.

A living-learning community for women in STEM is a beneficial method to encourage women to continue studying science and engineering. I was able to create my own support group who encouraged me to continue studying and dreaming of changing the world, even when I had a 40 page lab report due the next day. WIMSE was a home where female engineer and science students were a majority, not a minority as often happen in physics and calculus classes. When women find a community that both helps and supports their dreams, women will exceed their goals. This is what WIMSE does for women of STEM. Living-learning communities like WIMSE increase the retention of women within science, math and engineering fields of study.

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One interest shared throughout WIMSE was Doctor Who, so my dorm room became a place where WIMSE and other Whovians could watch new episodes on Saturday nights.

Now, 2 out of my 3 roommates live with me off-campus after we became good friends in WIMSE. I still spend weekend nights with former WIMSE girls because they’re still our best friends even though no one lives next door to each other anymore. Most of the executive boards of engineering student organizations include at least one former WIMSE resident, especially the Society of Women Engineers. Former WIMSE residents are currently accomplishing their dreams: attend their top veterinary school, travel the world, work for NASA, conduct ground-breaking research on cancer, etc. I think living in WIMSE for my first year and a half of college was one of the best decisions I made because what I learned living in WIMSE continues to inspire me to be the best engineer I can be.

I miss homework.

In less than a month, I will complete my final exams at Swansea University, finishing my semester abroad. Two of these exams are worth 100% of my final grade. One exam is worth 90% of my final grade. My final exam, the only multiple choice test I will receive this semester, will be 50% of my final grade. To be honest, the thought of all my grades relying on one test performance terrifies me.

Dr. Sheldon Cooper demonstrates how I feel about studying notes without practice homework problems.

I would have less of a problem with the ways grades are determined in the United Kingdom if I had more of an opportunity to practice what I’m learning. Over the past three and a half months, I have had only five homework assignments to work on and turn in promptly. My classes which rely on finals alone to determine final grades have not even offered optional homework problems. Old exams from past years are the only study tools I have and the answers are not included.

I’ve truly realized the true value of homework and I can’t wait to return to the United States where the value of homework problems as a learning method is more fully realized. I know I will eat my words in no time upon returning to Illinois, but let me share with you the reasons why homework is actually kind of really awesome.

5 Reasons Why You Should Stop Complaining About Your Homework

  1. You have the opportunity to develop your problem solving skills. Since elementary school, teachers expect students to solve problems, but students receive little instruction on proper problem solving techniques. No, I don’t count the scientific method we learned at the beginning of every junior high science class because I remember memorizing the steps for a quiz and never consciously using the scientific method again. This teaching failure causes a deficiency in these skills. The best remedy is to use homework problems to become a better problem solver.
  2. You have the ability to practice and apply what you’re learning. Here in Wales, my only opportunity to apply knowledge is with past exam papers which cover all of the class material in a mostly non-linear fashion. I’ve had very little opportunity to check my knowledge and understanding of concepts as I go. Homework, no matter how tedious, ingrains habits and methods to complete complicated problems into your brain. Last semester, I complained about how tiresome solving matrices became after the fifth homework problem, but now I actually miss it.
  3. You’re forced to study the material. It’s easy to say you understand something after reading it, but the truth comes out when you try to apply what you’ve learned. Homework makes you think beyond the words on the page. Learning does not mean understanding. Understanding comes from applying what you learned and making connections. Homework is the catalyst that turns learning into knowledge.
  4. You receive feedback on your work so you know what you don’t understand. In the UK, professors aren’t supposed to post exact answers to their past exams, even though these exams are all we have to study. In the US, my heart always dropped to see a red line slashed through the last half of a long homework problem. But this also told me how to fix it. For that, you should be grateful.
  5. You’re making major mistakes on small homework problems instead of the exam. In retrospect, homework is worth a mere fraction of your grade, no matter your education system. However, most of my grades result from homework and my reaction to graded homework. I practiced concepts in my assignments, understood what I needed to study more, and focused on the hard problems from past homework assignments. I missed hard problems on small homework assignments, but this led to focused studying so I could succeed on important tests.

This being said, there is such thing as too much homework. Students with an overload of assignments (myself included) may go through the motions and might look for shortcuts instead of seeking learning from coursework. There must be balance. I would love to see a couple more assignments from my classes in Wales to better check my knowledge and understanding.. The other solution is to create practice problems with guided and unguided solutions. Generally the UK describes its college education system as less supported than the US, but that does not mean UK classes should offer no support.

Overall, homework is a great opportunity to learn. Please, take advantage of it next time it’s offered to you.

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