North Carolina State University
I was an invited faculty guest at a Goodnight Scholars dinner on 9 November 2017, and one of the students asked what career we imagined as a child and how that relates to who we are today, and the answer for me was easy – a teacher. I spent countless hours throughout my childhood pretending that I was a teacher, and was quite attached to my chalkboard (which I still have) that my grandfather rescued from an old schoolhouse; I even tried to teach our dog the ABCs and would assign myself things like term papers just so I could grade them. So, it is no surprise that teaching fuels my drive and is one of my passions, thus is a significant aspect of my career. Despite being an introvert, I am energized by being in the classroom! I also relish the teaching that I do outside of the classroom through being an academic advisor and research advisor to undergraduate and graduate students, by being generally available to students for helping with whatever they may need to grow (including career counseling and life coaching), and also by being a mentor to other university faculty and K-12 teachers. My philosophy on teaching strongly resonates with NC State’s goal of fostering students to “Think and Do.” Below, I highlight examples of my contributions to NC State’s educational mission through some of my favorite quotations.
“The whole art of teaching is only the art of awakening the natural curiosity of young minds for the purpose of satisfying it afterwards.” ~ Anatole France
One of the most difficult aspects of teaching is motivating the students to learn and appreciate the material. The enthusiasm that a teacher shows for both teaching and for the course material can stimulate learning and success in students. Most importantly, I try to promote their desire to learn by stressing to the students that I genuinely care about them and their success. The challenge with teaching a traditional course such as engineering thermodynamics is how to spark student curiosity about the material; course evaluations for my first two times teaching TE 303 highlighted that I needed to do a better job in this area. Thus, in Fall 2009, I incorporated an extra credit opportunity where students can post contemporary applications of thermodynamics on the course message board, with two caveats: its relevance to thermodynamics must be explained, and that no two students can get credit for the same topic. I am quite impressed with the quality of posts and the discussions in class that have resulted from students reading other postings. A dramatic improvement transpired in the enthusiasm of the students for the course content, which I attribute to this simple change; the course evaluations were positive, and highlighted that the students got the applicability of thermodynamics in many areas. Former students occasionally send me items that they come across, which always makes me smile that they still remember the course and its relevance in the real world. Students from other majors also seek out my course due to its reputation as being ‘challenging but fun.’
I try to incorporate current research and development, including my own research work, into my courses as much as I can. I have previously taught E101, the Introduction to Engineering course; this course spends a lot of time discussing what engineering is all about and providing them with success strategies to achieve their goals. A big surprise to me was how many students did not really know that there was more to engineering than what the “typical” mechanical, electrical, and civil engineers do. So, I covered everything from molecular level aspects of engineering (my expertise) to large scale, systems level approaches. I think I provided an inspiring perspective to some of the best students; I had some ask me about how to seek out research opportunities in their own programs. I was also one of the faculty who helped to develop the E101 fabric bucket for Engineering Design Day, where the students come up with innovative ideas on how to fabricate a bucket for carrying water using a textile. I also used the Grand Challenges from the National Academy of Engineering as a platform for conveying how the different engineering disciplines can contribute to all 14 of the Grand Challenges; I developed a course assignment where the students, in teams of 3-4, had to identify for a particular Grand Challenge how the assigned
NC State engineering majors can contribute to solving that Grand Challenge. For example, the engineering students realized that my program, textile engineering, is diverse in its potential impact, from filtration for clean water and air to alternative energy sources and even personalized medicine.
“The world is more malleable than you think and it's waiting for you to hammer it into shape.” ~ Bono
Motivating students helps them to realize that they can learn a great deal, and inspiring them can help them to achieve more than they thought possible, thus fostering to their desire to take action. One way that I have done that is through the incorporation of an open-ended (but instructor-guided) team project in TE 303 where the students choose a textile (or paper science or biomedical engineering) manufacturing process and they analyze all of the inputs and outputs and then use course topics and their own creativity to propose ideas for making the process more sustainable; I attended a workshop at Carnegie Mellon’s Center for Sustainable Engineering in July 2009 that assisted with the development of this project, and I have since refined it based on tools that I learned in the NCSU Th!nk workshop from Summer 2016. I have successfully implemented this project for the past eight years, and I feel that it is not only a great way for the students to see how thermodynamics applies to their chosen field, but it also has given the students a different but realistic perspective on problem solving since it is more open-ended, in contrast to the types of problems that are commonly given in technical courses. Some students find the open-ended nature of the problem (or even defining their own problem!) to be challenging, but I continually remind them that is often how problems arise in “the real world.” I also provide a lot of feedback along the way by requiring three phases of drafts (and this year, based on the Th!nk workshop, two peer review cycles and two sets of reflection questions). Feedback from the students has indicated that they learn a lot from this experience, including how inefficient industrial processes are, and how thermodynamics plays a key role in improving efficiencies. From their perspective, many of the proposed changes are obvious, and thus motivates them to want to take action (now and in the future). Former students have told me that this project is one that they have discussed during job interviews as a great learning experience. A graduate who took my class several years ago told me that this project helped him to be more conscientious about identifying problems and inefficiencies in his current job, and also helped him to be more innovative in his problem solving. A group in Fall 2016 worked closely with a company to institute real change in their manufacturing facility, and a 2009 team had contacted the President of the manufacturing company for their project and he expressed how impressed he was with their ideas. A student group from Fall 2010 submitted their project to the 2011 AATCC Materials Research Poster Competition, and won first place in the Industrial/ Technical/ Sports Materials category.
“I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.” ~ Socrates
My goals in teaching are not just to promote learning of the subject matter, but also to challenge them and to get them to think critically and creatively. While the lecture material and textbook readings are valuable, I believe that the real learning comes through the student’s own efforts to solve problems and by thinking more critically and creatively about the material. For example, in TE 110, TE 303, and TE 589, I expect the students to reflect upon the answer that they obtain for each problem on the homework and analyze its significance in the context of the course content; for exams, I then expect them to adapt those evaluations to a new but related problem. In addition, when students ask me questions on the homework, I try not to just give them the answer, but rather probe the students with questions to help the students figure it out themselves. I have found that this strategy not only teaches the students how to think, but also can foster their confidence. I also incorporate real-life examples and also the importance of other life skills such as integrity, communications, and time management. For my graduate course on Sustainability of Soft Materials (TE 589-002), the course project is to write an original research paper “to suggest improvements to an existing textile/polymer process, product, or technology to make it more
sustainable, and to use the CES EduPack software to provide evidence for your ideas.” I have been very impressed with the quality of their project ideas and supporting documentation! In fact, some students have turned their projects into reality: a student from 2011 worked with the NCSU Sustainability Office to implement his ideas, and a team submitted their project to the 2012 Odebrecht Award for Sustainable Development and won 3rd Place (out of 170 teams).
“Most of our so-called reasoning consists in finding arguments for going on believing as we already do.” ~ James Harvey Robinson
A key skill that I stress in my classes is reasoning, which is essential to thinking critically, solving problems, and being innovative. Thus, I apply active and inquiry-based learning strategies to engage the students and to resonate with a variety of learning styles. In most of my courses, I have “Brainstorming” moments in most class periods, where I give them something to think about, give them time to think about it, and I solicit their thoughts on the topic. For example, in TE 303, I lead a themed brainstorming session around Halloween time on using the laws of thermodynamics to determine whether ghosts could exist. The students come up with some very interesting viewpoints! I utilize the resulting discussion to teach them how to use the course content to reason through this topic; some thoughts violated some aspects of the laws of thermodynamics, and/or require specific assumptions, so it provides some unstructured teachable moments. Reasoning also requires listening, communication abilities, and respect for differing viewpoints. In T 491, which includes freshman honors students from all textile disciplines (fashion to engineering), the co-instructor and I developed a series of case studies where students break into groups during class to work on them. The goal of each group for a given case study was to develop a consensus on how they would address the issues posed in the case study. Each student is randomly assigned a specific role (Marketing, Lead Scientist, Designer, etc) for each activity, and each student is expected to present opinions and ideas from that role’s point-of-view; therefore, an engineering student might have to think from the perspective of the designer or even the CEO. An example is a “Globalization Case Study”, where the students are asked to propose a recommendation to the management about whether they should merge with the South American company, taking into account the history of this company, the perspectives of all stakeholders involved, and the changing global environment. Students can recommend other improvements or alternatives. The students seemed to enjoy these discussion days, the opportunity to experience various points-of-views on a topic, and to interact with their diverse classmates.
“Teachers need to integrate technology seamlessly into the curriculum instead of viewing it as an add-on, an afterthought, or an event.” ~ Heidi Hays-Jacobs
TE 110 is an introductory course that is intended to teach students how to model problems relevant to their specific engineering discipline through software platforms commonly used in industry, such as Excel with VBA. To aid in retention and broadening the applicability of these skills, I have been active in fostering the integration of these computing skills into other courses throughout the TE curriculum; this initiative is part of a project through the Computing Across the Curriculum Faculty Fellow program for which I participated in 2008. I have integrated these computing skills into TE 303 by adding a homework problem to at least half of the assignments that necessitates the use of these skills, and also require the calculations for the open-ended semester project to be done using the skills learned in TE 110. We published a paper and gave a presentation on this effort at the ASEE International Meeting in 2011.
I integrate other newer technologies into my courses. During class, if I am asked a question that I do not know, I will sometimes say “well, let’s Google it,” providing not only answers, but also providing an example of how they can be resourceful when searching for answers. It also gives me the opportunity to stress in real time about the reliability of content on the Internet and how to make informed decisions on its reliability. In my graduate course, TE 589, I have integrated the use of the CES EduPack software,
both the materials selection tools and the EcoAudit tool. I also record all of my lectures and help sessions, and post all of my notes, so students can access them later. I keep a well-organized Moodle site for every course, which contains lots of examples, extra resources, and other content to help facilitate learning and discussion. I have used technology to provide a forum for students to receive help on their homework assignments. Instead of using the message boards through NC State’s learning management systems, I utilize Piazza, an online/mobile Q&A message board system so that students can learn from each other’s questions, which sometimes also fosters discussions on related topics tend to use external ones. Another value of Piazza is that it allows students to post anonymously, as I have found that the students are more willing to post their questions if they don’t feel that they will be judged by their classmates for it; equations and code can also be easily formatted on the board. In addition, I integrate a lot of online content, including links to online textbooks and resources, YouTube and TED videos, and online simulation tools. In fact, I have not used a textbook in my engineering thermodynamics course for over 8 years, and the students seem to not miss it because of all of the other technologies and content that I provide, and our students who take the engineering licensure exam (Fundamentals of Engineering) have all done well on the thermodynamics section. (The students are, however, strongly encouraged to use a standard textbook as a supplement, and several are put on reserve in the library.)
“The most important persuasion tool you have in your entire arsenal is integrity.” ~ Zig Ziglar
I see my role as an instructor to be more than just teaching technical content, but also teaching life lessons; I feel that it is imperative to emphasize integrity in particular. I stress academic integrity in all of my courses, and devote almost a page to it in my syllabus. I discuss with the students the ramifications of integrity violations on their professional and personal lives, as well as society as a whole. I back up this lesson by having a strict academic misconduct policy in all of my courses, and I emphasize it on all assignments and exams. I devised an ethics module on the Dangers of Group Think, which I have incorporated into several courses (TE 105, E 101) as have some colleagues. For example, when the students in E101 presented their final design project results, part of the presentation requirements were to address challenges, and several of the groups brought out aspects of the group think that we had discussed earlier in the semester. In addition, I worked with a colleague to integrate critical thinking lessons and assignments into both TE 105 and E 101 (that was prior to the NC State Th!nk Initiative as critical thinking is something that I value as an important skill). Self-assessments performed at the end of the courses indicated that the quality of final projects had dramatically improved because it not only helped the students have a foundation in critical thinking, but also provided a good mechanism for us to be more objective in our grading. I also emulate integrity and ethics by striving to be fair, consistent, and resourceful for all students.
“A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.” ~ Oprah Winfrey
Much teaching also takes place outside of the classroom. I view my advising and mentoring roles as a catalyst for devising the framework that enables learning to take place, then stimulating and nurturing the students’ progress, giving help in terms of knowledge, techniques, resources, and most of all, encouragement. One of my favorite parts of my job is serving as an academic advisor, which I view as including life coaching and career counseling. Another favorite aspect of my job is mentoring almost 100 people on research projects and graduate dissertations (my academic kids and nieces/nephews!), and love when they stop by to visit or send update emails. I also enjoy having opportunities to serve as a faculty advisor/mentor for student activities, such as the faculty advisor for the DanceLife club and being a faculty guest at activities hosted by programs like Caldwell Fellows, Goodnight Scholars, Centennial Scholars, Textile Engineering Society, and Textile Association of Graduate Students. I also actively mentor my junior colleagues on teaching and mentoring, and enjoy seeing their growth and success as a teacher, advisor, and mentor.