What are some of the cutting edge engineering education advancements at the College of Engineering during the last few years?
We have also done a lot because of our new facilities and our new building—we have given students better physical spaces in which to do their learning and they can do more open-ended projects, they can work as teams, and they can work on projects that have nothing to do with actual courses, but things that they’re interested in. They’re excited to use their engineering to compete against other schools with vehicles or other types of instruments. Or, they really want to solve a world problem. We are a Jesuit university where we are supposed to be about creating men and women for others and people who are going to go out and make the world a better place. My vision for the College of Engineering is that we will be a community of global citizens who will create value and positively impact quality of life for every person on earth through our leadership and innovation. How do we help students prepare for that? By having spaces where students can work 24/7, develop new technologies, study problems, and work with multiple disciplines.
Students from other universities come here and work with our students on design projects and engineering problem solving. Some of our senior design teams have been working with the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD) for some time with teams of students there. Now we are formally looking at the development of joint programs with MIAD which would incorporate what we do with Engineering Education and their curriculum in Industrial Design and create unique graduates who have an appreciation of both areas. That may also help lead us into doing some more collaborative work between engineering and fine arts [at MIAD]. I think it is great that we are bringing more of that arts and fine arts education to what our engineers do in terms of developing creativity—being able to have more diversity of thought.
We’ve also recently joined the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network (KEEN), it’s a network of 21 schools across the [United States], really promoting the entrepreneurial mindset and entrepreneurial thinking, which has to do with creativity, making connections between the seemingly unconnected, and identifying opportunities to create value. KEEN is not so much about starting businesses, but really about thinking differently in the way we problem solve and the way we create value.
We’ve also created discovery learning spaces, where students can play, create, design, take risks, and really work 24/7 with peers and professors. We’re doing more in terms of student centered learning, with students spending more time in the classroom problem solving in teams, in groups and doing active learning while the professors act more like coaches.
We’re also offering much more in the area of undergraduate resource opportunities, and providing more resources for more undergraduates to be active in the research labs, working with professors and thinking about how to use research to spawn innovation. We have been combining our research labs with our teaching labs, rather than separate the two, bringing them together so that research better informs teaching.
When I first started teaching, so many of my colleagues taught from a textbook and went chapter-by-chapter, and it was very “plug and chug” type engineering and creating obedient engineers. It may work for some, but I think we’re following a better approach, rather than following a textbook, let’s look at the problems and the challenges. How do we pool together our knowledge from different disciplines to creatively look at those problems, and focus more on being creative and risk-taking engineers as opposed to obedient engineers?
How do you plan on furthering and supporting these advancements?
We’re trying to do increase our research capacity in key areas of water, energy, health and manufacturing. These are key areas that address many global problems and we know that innovation starts research and research informs our teaching. Research is at the heart of our ability to make a real difference in the world and to attract the most innovative faculty and students. It impacts our ability to offer cutting edge education, to attract industry engagement, our rankings and reputation, and our ability to make change in the world. This all ties into our research mission and it leads to a better teaching mission as well. It helps us to get a critical mass of faculty who are really state-of-the-art and leading new frontiers, and helps us to cross traditional boundaries.
I want to see us do more industry engagement. We do really well with industry relations in terms of co-op and internship employment for our graduates, but I would like to see more industry in our research labs and to engage with our educational programs at an expanded level. I also want to see us expand our global reach and awareness through immersion experiences locally and abroad and show our students how innovation and entrepreneurship are done abroad.
How would you characterize the current relations between Marquette University the Corporate and Industry world? What are some of the projects that you are implementing local companies?
We’re very lucky because we have a wealth of industry in our community and we have many successful alumni at those companies, so they tend to want to be engaged. I think right now we want to increase our research collaboration through major research centers. We have some good industry partnerships through our water quality center, our biomedical imaging research, our senior design projects, machine-design lab, advanced manufacturing technology center, and our strength and materials testing lab.
We’ve made some great strides in terms of engaging major industries, creating partnerships with industry—we’ve always had a very strong internship and co-op program. In the past couple years, we’ve significantly increased the number of companies who are offering co-op and internship experience to our students. About 75% of our students co-op or intern before they even leave Marquette, which I think is great in terms of giving them a sense of what they can expect in terms of real-world engineering and giving them some of those experiences in engineering on a global scale. Through these industry experiences they get a much better sense of what it’s like to work with global teams and international teams.
We’ve done some unique things this year in terms of getting students to work with industry with Hack-a-thons. We’ve had a couple of companies come in and sponsored Hackathons, where students spend an entire day addressing some challenge that has been posed by the industry. For example, Direct Supply offered a Hackathon where participants were asked to create a solution to improve senior living. We had freshmen, seniors, graduate students, we had about 100 students who came all day and came up with some unique solutions that they presented at the end of the day with a business plan to try and help them sell their ideas.
We’re also part of a new I-Corp with the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee (UWM) and five other institutions in the Milwaukee area. This gives faculty and students an opportunity to think about commercialization and startup businesses. There’s also the Commons in Milwaukee, which focuses on bringing together students from all the different academic institutions to think about startup venture and moving ideas to commercial solutions.
Many of these companies host career nights and social events for our students and we have a very engaged industrial advisory boards for the college in all of departments. These boards are very helpful in assessing curriculum and the preparation of our graduates. I would like our faculty to have the opportunity to spend more time in industry to experience what goes on out there while at the same time having industry more engaged in our research programs.
What are some of the overall challenges that your institution faces?
I think it’s like with many institutions, the rising cost of tuition makes it hard for people to afford. Increase competition for the best students because of the cost, we happen to be surrounded by a lot of large public universities where tuition is cheaper and they are well-ranked schools. We have small faculty numbers, so to be competitive in research and teaching, we need to increase our faculty size in key areas.
Like most universities, we are seeing reductions in government funding for research and development, we’re hoping industry will start to make-up a piece of that. And we do lack a diverse faculty and student body and in the last five years we have hired more and more diverse faculty, but we still have a ways to go. We have to do more with our student body as well—if we’re going to serve the world, we need to look more like that world that we’re going to serve.
Can you share with us some of the approaches that Marquette is implementing in order to sustain growth in its Engineering College and retain a constant growth of its student body in addition to ethnic and gender diversity?
We are offering opportunities for student centered learning that are reaching beyond traditional engineering, including co-op and internships, undergraduate research experiences, great laboratories where students can tinker, play, and create in addition to student-run design projects. We now have a people-focused engineering leadership program called ELead, which is bringing a whole new layer of professional preparation and leadership development to people who will enter technical fields. We offer study broad and are looking to expand study abroad into work abroad.
Marquette is very strong in community service both locally and globally. We rank at the top in the United States in [community service] and this is why many students come here. We continue to offer and promote service learning and community service that actually requires engineering activity. We send our student group of Engineers without Borders down to Guatemala to build bridges and wire up electricity into villages. We also offer core curriculum to give students the opportunity to strengthen their essential skills in people, relationships, business acumen, ethics, emotional intelligence, and self-awareness.
We are working very hard to raise scholarship dollars for first-generation and low-income students, Jesuit schools have a commitment to first-generation and low-income students. We are also providing financial support for some of our student professional organizations so that they can travel to conferences and can do career development at some of their national workshops. We are improving our advising processes, particularly for low-income and first-generational students to give them more of the relational piece that is been shown to be a real factor in their success.
We’re looking to expand some of our 2+2 and 2+3 programs in community colleges. Community Colleges are really good at taking some of these students who may hadn’t had the opportunity in high school to prepare for an engineering curriculum, and give them some of what they need to become prepared, and then have them come here to experience the last few years of engineering.
In your opinion, what are some of significant issues/topics that ought to be addressed by the global engineering community and particularly by Engineering Deans, in order to further strengthen inter regional communication and continue to globalize this field of study?
How do we attract and attain women in engineering? The numbers still aren’t good, particularly out in practicing engineers. How do we create engineering environments that are more women friendly and friendly to a more diverse engineering community? How do we create more global work opportunities for students to learn about innovation and technological development in other countries? It’s not enough to just go to school in other countries, but to get some work experience.
How do we elevate the status of engineers to earn more like their business counter-parts for mid-career and senior-career? A lot of people leave engineering because, although they start off with good salaries, they tend to level-off compared to their business counterparts, unless the engineers go into a business path such as management or operations. For people who want to stay in the technical path, they are not compensated as well and don’t necessarily have the prestige they might have in management positions.
In the United States, children from affluent families tend not to go into engineering. They want to make money managing other people’s money—that’s a whole crop of students who don’t go into engineering. And we have the other end, which is your low-income and first-generation students who haven’t been given the educational opportunities to prepare for engineering. You losing out on both ends of the spectrum. That may not be true in other countries, I think in other countries engineers are looked upon much better, and those perceptions I think are very different in the United States.
Another thing we need to think about, which is part of why we want our Marquette engineers to have that ethical and moral foundation, is that in our work as engineers, how we address intellectual property, confidentiality, quality, and ethical standards that vary from country to country. It’s a reality in engineering work. I think in terms of biomedical engineering, we are entering some frontiers in terms of science and engineering where you're going to have some very difficult ethical debates around the idea of “just because we can do it, doesn’t mean we should do it”. We’re messing with genetic material and creating genetic material that doesn’t exist right now. While there are always positive outcomes for these things, there is always somebody using advancements in negative ways as well.
As a female dean in the engineering community, are there any unique challenges that you have faced?
My overall experience in engineering has been very positive and fulfilling, and I’ve really enjoyed working, even in this male-dominated field. But I do think that female engineers at times have to prove ourselves in ways that our male counterparts do not. At times we put forth more effort to convince others that we can make the bar or really manage the challenges.
For me, particularly in my early years, when we have children, I think there is a tendency for males to not think we are serious about our careers or that we will not be as productive and I know at times I felt like I had to hide my family life in order to be taken seriously at work. I don’t see that same in my male counterparts often. I know that occasionally, I feel like I’ve been disregarded by some males of other cultures who are not used to having women in the workplace, much less in positions of leadership. But, overall, we adapt and it turns out okay, but initially it is sort of an awkward situation.
What are some advantages that you feel the perspective of female engineers can bring to the field?
In terms of our perspectives, I think as females we look at customer needs and engineering design differently, often from unique perspectives because of the way we experience the world. We may also think differently about education and approaches to student learning, as opposed to business as usual. Women tend to look at leadership from a team perspective rather than a pyramid point-of-view and I think we tend to be more outwardly focused when leading others.