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E-news Online October 2012

Engaging the Next Generation

By Charlie Feigenoff

Jefferson’s design for the Lawn makes it clear he intended faculty to be more than just teachers, but mentors and role models, too. The Mead Endowment — and the newly created Kinnier Award under the auspices of the Mead Endowment — celebrates those faculty members who best fulfill this ideal. It provides them modest funding to find yet another occasion to work closely with students outside the classroom.

Dana Elzey, associate professor of materials science and engineering and director of the Rodman Scholars Program, is the first recipient of the Kinnier Award. “Dana helps students understand the power of engineering to change the world as well as to change the way they think about the world,” says Engineering School Dean James H. Aylor. “He’s also strongly believes that students learn best through doing.”

The project Elzey developed with his Kinnier Award funding illustrates this approach perfectly. One of the goals of the program is to give students who are considering a career as an engineering school professor the opportunity to develop an engineering class and teach it. He plans to recruit a small group of interested third-year engineering students and host a series of dinner seminars to expose them, as he says, “to the inner workings of the teaching profession.”

One method is to invite colleagues to talk over dinner about their motivations for becoming professors and their experiences as faculty members. “It’s important that our students begin to see faculty as people and to imagine living their lives,” Elzey says.

But as is typical for Elzey, he moves beyond empathy to experience, challenging students to develop an introduction to engineering presentation for 11th graders. Students will be asked to approach the challenge as they would a design project: setting goals and delivering a program that best meets their requirements. “There are a million ways of doing this,” Elzey says. “Their goal is to find the idea that has the highest probability of success.”

Elzey’s Kinnier Award program serves another goal: raising the profile of engineering in high schools and expanding the pool of potential engineers to students who have strengths beyond math and science. “As an engineer, you have to know your math and science,” he says, “but you also need to be able to manage and organize a project, place it in the larger context and communicate your decisions clearly. I see the Kinnier Award as an occasion to make engineering a consideration for a broader selection of students.”

The Mead Endowment honors Ernest “Boots” Mead, a professor of music for over 40 years. After he retired in 1996, a group of former students pooled their resources to create an endowment in his name. This year, Mead Advisory Board members Michael Lennox, Scott Stephenson (ME ’79), Ruth Haile (CE ’79) and John Anderson (ME ’78) created a special award honoring the late Henry Kinnier (CE ’42). Kinnier was known for his kind and helpful guidance to generations of engineering students.