Students learn better when they engage and integrate new material into their existing knowledge and experience base. They work harder and give more when they are motivated by a greater cause: saving the planet, innovation, entrepreneurship, shaping public policy. With that in mind, I introduce theory in the context of involving students in solving a real-world engineering problem, many of which have socio-political implications.
Projects are a major facilitator to active student learning. They allow students to draw from their knowledge base and take an idea from inception to completion. And since they are doing and not watching, they will be more engaged and more likely to retain what they learned and recall and integrate it into their knowledge base. Projects are also a cornerstone in engineering, and there are tools and methods for executing projects successfully. The topic of the project is a good opportunity to update the course to reflect current events and interests without major curriculum changes.
I firmly believe that everyone can succeed in any subject and if one approach doesn’t work for one student, another will. Learning is about making connections with what you already know, and I am eager to help students make those connections and have the “aha” moment when the piece fits. Not all students have taken the same path to get to where they are today and so not all students will learn the same way and their repository of knowledge and connections will differ. I like the challenge of teaching something that may at first seem complicated and making it interesting and relatable and thereby less complicated. For several years, I have taught college math in federal and state prisons, and I also teach fluid mechanics and propulsion to children in elementary schools. It’s a fun challenge to learn to adapt and teach what I want to anyone no matter their background.
My vision for the future is to incorporate more problem-based learning into courses that I teach and develop more international opportunities addressing topics important to society such as: water and energy and that include diverse teams. Learning happens outside the classroom as much if not more as it does in the classroom. I have worked with students every summer as interns on various engineering and research projects and would like to continue to find and create such opportunities for students to learn and practice engineering.
Partnerships on campus have been instrumental to my development as an educator and for the benefit of my students. Campus as Lab, Program for Community Engaged Scholarship, Council on Science & Technology, Facilities / Energy Plant Management, and Center for Learning & Teaching have offered on-campus opportunities to engage students in tangible engineering projects and to improve my effectiveness as an educator.