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.

Happy not-Monday-anymore! I hope you had a wonderful weekend and that you had a good Monday too. As of now, I have only one more Monday of classes left. I can’t believe this semester flew by already. Only a few more weeks and I’ll be a senior. Maybe that will be a joy of engineering at some point: You’re busy that you barely notice how much time flies past until graduation is less than 365 days away. But that will be saved for another day!

My joy in engineering today is: #WIEchooseIllinois.

#WIEchooseIllinois is a trending hashtag for Twitter that means Women in Engineering (WIE) choose Illinois. Tonight I participated in a Twitter chat for admitted students to ask questions about what it was like to be a woman in engineering at Illinois. I sat in a room some really beautiful women whose many talents include leadership, engineering (of course!), entrepreneurship, advocacy, etc. We answered admitted student questions and also shared stories of our past 3-4 years at Illinois. I loved seeing these incredible women sharing their Illinois experiences: researching to cure cancer, visiting Silicon Valley to learn more about start-up culture, leading the Society of Women Engineers, studying abroad and so much more. The level of passion for engineering and Illinois in the room was almost tangible.

2014-04-26 18.55.30

Did I mention the Alma Mater is back after her restoration? My first picture with the University of Illinois icon was as an admitted student when I came for orientation during the summer of 2011.

The other reason that my joy of engineering is #WIEchooseIllinois is because three years ago this month I made the decision to come to the University of Illinois. I had only visited Illinois twice. Everyone in my hometown thought UIUC was in Chicago, not Urbana-Champaign. It was by far one of the best decisions I have ever made. I’m so grateful for the experiences I’ve had as a student here at Illinois. I’m so very thankful for the people who chose to come to Illinois with me. I can’t imagine losing even one person from the communities I love like the Catholic Newman Center’s Koinonia “family”, the WIMSE (Women in Math, Science and Engineering) Living-Learning Community dorms, CUBE Consulting, etc. These people have changed my life. Not in a sappy way, but in a way that I will use to help me continue to become a better version of myself throughout the rest of my life.

So to all of my friends and fellow (or former) University of Illinois students: Thank you for choosing Illinois!

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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