Geologist, Builder, Collaborator
Bill Dunne is the chair of ASEE’s Engineering Research Council and associate dean for research and facilities at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s college of engineering. A geologist by training, Dunne came to ASEE in a roundabout way. After 22 years as an associate professor of geology, first at West Virginia University and then at UTK, Dunne became an associate dean of facilities and research in the college of arts and sciences in 2002. While there, he developed a symbiotic relationship with his counterpart in the engineering college, whom he later succeeded.
“We recognized that we shared a lot of common issues, and that a lot of what we did lined up. If we worked together we would be a lot more effective than if we worked against each other,” he says. “Two associate deans from two of the largest colleges talking about the same problems got the attention of the central administration, and we were able to get a lot of things done.”
Dunne stakes a lot on collaboration. In fact, he’s building it into the university through renovations. “Changing the furniture allows professors to become facilitators,” rather than lecturers, he says. Small classroom changes like Steelcase Node rolling desks and chairs allow lecture-format classes to change easily into collaborative learning classrooms. “Where are the coffee pots?” Dunne constantly asks, “I’m always worried about where people are going to casually rub shoulders with each other.” Collaborative spaces with food and drink help people unwind and trade ideas.
Dunne is also in charge of new, state-of-the-art STEM buildings, which he says are “very demanding.” Besides paying careful attention to mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems, Dunne notes that schools must design for flexibility. Ttechnology can make tremendous leaps between the beginning of a five-year project and when a building opens. This can be a particular challenge when integrating a new Makerspace into a building that was originally designed to house only two 3D printers.
The annual Engineering Research Council meeting, which began March 8, marked Dunne’s first major event as chair. He appreciates the ERC meeting because it allows him to join with and learn from his peers. “Don’t invent the wheel,” is his maxim. “Find the people that invented the wheel and learn from them.” And there is no better way to learn than by collaboration.
Meet Your Staff
Multilingual Data Diver
By Nathan Kahl
Joining ASEE’s diverse and international staff last summer was nothing new for Yessica Yang Choy, a research analyst in our Assessment, Evaluation, and Institutional Research Office. She comes from Panama City, Panama, a robust collection of nationalities, languages, and ideas.
Though she was born in Panama, Yessica’s parents were from China and she grew up straddling cultures. She can speak to you in English, Spanish, and three different Chinese dialects (Mandarin, Cantonese, and Hakka). Her father, who moved to Panama in the 1980s to launch a real estate business, valued both education and the need for Yessica to be close to her roots, so she went to China at age 12 to spend a year at a boarding school.
“A school day in China is from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and then after dinner from 7 to 8:30 it’s homework time,” she recalls, not fondly. “The plan was for me to stay for two years but I made a deal that it would only be one year; the compromise was that during summer, instead of having fun, I lived with my grandpa and had more education, learning 2,000 new Chinese characters!”
Back in Panama for high school, she says she existed on a few hours of sleep doing a pre-med program, aiming for one of 200 annual places at the National University of Panama Medical School. She did make it into National University but decided medicine wasn’t for her. She says her father “was disappointed, but he has the Western mentality that you should do something you like because you will do your best, rather than being forced into something.”
So she went to Northeastern University for a business degree, where the introductory first days of August soon blew away into the typical bracing Boston fall and winter, something she’d not experienced before. Her roommate, an American, helped her prepare. After Northeastern she worked a couple jobs to get her feet wet and then headed to D.C. and Georgetown University for a master’s in public policy. She says her time there, “opened me to a whole new idea of caring about the whole world and not just focusing on a narrow business area.”
She joined ASEE just in time for the 2016 Annual Conference, where many members may recall her carrying around a tablet and gathering data through interviews. At ASEE she enjoys being in a small organization where she feels valued. “In my interview I was asked what ideas I had to change the way things were done here; this impressed me,” she says. “Here I can use all the skills I’ve learned in school and I’m growing faster professionally here than people I graduated with who work elsewhere.”
Yessica misses Panama’s accessibility to aquatic activities like scuba. However, ASEE is happy to have her on board to do deep data dives.
Expanding ASEE’s Global Reach
Completing its third year, ASEE’s P-12 Engineering Education Committee (PEEC) is pursuing ambitious aims. It wants to see engineering taught widely and well in pre-K through 12th grade classrooms and integrated within a system of engineering education. It also wants to increase respect in academia for research on P-12 engineering education as an area of expertise.
Each of these elements will be evident at ASEE’s Annual Conference in Columbus, Ohio, which will include a P-12 Workshop on June 24, a “Flavors of P-12” set of hands-on, dinner-hour activities, and a prominently placed PEEC booth to showcase an expanding body of research.
ASEE has come to recognize the benefit of P-12 engineering in both preparing incoming engineering students as well as recruiting more women and underrepresented minorities. The Society’s Board of Directors in 2013 formed a Long Range Planning committee on P-12 Engineering Education and the following year created the PEEC as one of a dozen advisory committees. The PEEC’s nine members represent a cross-section of the organization, including the Pre-College Division, Engineering Deans and Engineering Technology Councils, and Corporate Member Council. Last summer, the Board designated the current academic year as the Year to Commit to P-12.
Elizabeth Parry, chair since the PEEC began, carved out a unique role in research on P-12 engineering education and teacher training from her base at North Carolina State University’s engineering school, where she was until recently an instructor in first-year engineering. She recently became an independent consultant and will be stepping down from the PEEC in June.
Parry believes that the key to recruiting a larger and more diverse cohort of engineering students is to start teaching children engineering as early as possible. Teachers should be trained to instill “engineering habits of mind: working productively with other people; using data and evidence; and being able to fail and recover from it.”
“The holy grail is changing teachers’ practice,” she says. Math and science content can be adjusted depending on grade level and student preparation. “We go in with engineering problem-solving that happens to use math.”
Building on the annual ASEE P-12 teachers’ workshop, the committee seeks greater P-12 involvement in the Annual Conference itself, expanding the number of teachers who attend, highlighting successful pre-service efforts, and offering workshops on grant-writing and research collaborations.
The committee also wants to promote and disseminate P-12 engineering standards, guidelines, and best practices, and to establish a P-12 engineering education journal affiliated with ASEE.
As P-12 engineering education research develops, the committee hopes it will gain recognition as a scholarly enterprise in its own right and be considered by engineering schools in tenure and promotion decisions.
This is the second in a series of articles on ASEE advisory committees.