MIT's motto is "Mens et Manus" which is Latin for "Mind and Hand". I view it as a method of education underpinned by a learning by doing mantra. This philosophy is core to my teaching thesis.
My belief is that knowledge should permeate beyond book smarts. Groundbreaking scientists make discoveries when they investigate a hunch. Brilliant engineers anticipate future challenges for a new design before oversights cause upsets in production. Successful entrepreneurs have a feel for markets that do not even exist yet. Solving canned problem sets from a course book can only take one so far. Developing a gut instinct takes real world trial and error.
I spent part of my graduate career as a assistant for the legendary Unified Engineering course. "Unified" is the introductory MIT Aero/Astro engineering course that unifies the topics of structures, thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, and signals and systems. I help teach the thermodynamics section of the course. My role included teaching and assisting students during office hours, helping develop and evaluate problem sets and exam material, and assisting in labs.
I have also been a guest lecturer and presenter at multiple institutions typically on the topic of space resources, exploration, and mining. To see my list of presentations, please see my publications page.
In addition to my teaching and lecturer experiences, I have mentored 6 undergraduate student on research projects relating to my work. Working with motivated students on research projects is always very rewarding. I try to avoid assigning undergraduates to projects that are simply data processing tasks or other uncreative endeavors because these types of things do not expose them to the research process and the essence of academic discovery. My philosophy is to help guide students through the research process but to also give them freedom to form their own hypothesis and explore it by applying the scientific method.
Beyond the Classroom
How can we help students develop their gut instinct? Give them the opportunity to apply their knowledge, give them permission to fail, and remove and barriers from them getting back up and trying again.
This is why I find programs such as the MIT Sandbox Innovation Fund so important. This is an MIT program to fund students to explore new ideas in entrepreneurship. Students are allotted funding of $1000 that can be increased up to $25000 as their project progresses. A key feature of the program is that it is non-competitive. Nearly every student with an idea is admitted and opportunities for additional funding is at their teams own pace and maturity. It is a breath of fresh air in an era where entrepreneurship competitions with cash prizes are the must have for "innovative" universities. The non-competitive aspect of Sandbox promotes an environment of collaboration between teams a reduces the risk of trying an idea that seems wacky at first. This is where true innovation happens.
I volunteered with this program for the past 2 years and mentored over 20 different student teams. There have been many company successes but the biggest reward is watching the students grow as the navigate the actual creation of a real company. They work to identify a minimum viable product, build their team, prioritize, talk with customers, incorporate, and pilot products. Sometimes classes get in the way, which is fine. Sandbox is a program designed to enhance education. Classes come first. Sometimes the product does not work out and we have no problem with letting the team pivot. Some students even decide that entrepreneurship isn't for them. That is as valuable to learn as anything. By removing barriers to participation, reducing the consequences of failure, and facilitating learning by doing, we have enabled hundreds of students to learn about tech entrepreneurship and develop their instincts.
So how do we seamlessly integrate this philosophy into the standard engineering undergraduate experience? How do educators evaluate learning when failure is key to growth?
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Explaining the parts of a jet turbine engine before the jet engine lab experiment.
Copyright 2015-2018 Forrest E. Meyen Image Header Credit: NASA Image of the Day. Jan 12, 2014.