Day: March 23, 2020

Deans’ Teaching Showcase: Jennifer Becker

Jennifer Becker
Jennifer Becker

In the midst of all of the challenges we’re facing, it’s important to continue to recognize the dedication of so many excellent instructors on Tech’s campus. That’s why Janet Callahan, dean of the College of Engineering, has selected our ninth Deans’ Teaching Showcase member: Jennifer Becker, an associate professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) Department.

Becker is known by her students for her passion for hands-on learning. As an example, she seeks to create interactive learning environments for her students. CEE1001 is taught only once a year and serves all civil engineering students as well as students in other majors interested in sustainability topics. Rather than teaching a giant section of the course, which may easily exceed enrollments of 90 students, she offers two sections of the course to increase instructor-student interactions. Throughout her class, Becker employs active learning techniques to better enable her students to learn the material. This work extends beyond her own students; last spring, she received the Behind the Scenes Award for helping enterprise groups with their project.

Becker also shines at the graduate level. Many programs assume graduate students will gain the knowledge they need to be successful in their research through real-time mentoring by their advisor, making lab courses rare. She does a service for all of the environmental engineering faculty by including a wet lab component in her wastewater course to provide hands-on experience on which students can build on when they begin their research. Becker also incorporates common industry and computer tools in her classes such as Biowin, a software used to model biological, physical and chemical processes in a plant.

CEE chair Audra Morse emphasizes this connection to industry, saying “In her CEE 4502 Wastewater Treatment Principles & Design course, Jennifer offers multiple field trip sessions to the local wastewater treatment facility to make sure all class members have the opportunity to participate in this real-world learning opportunity. The field trip supports the hands-on learning and software tools Jennifer incorporates in her class. The field trip hits home how the chemical, physical, and biological processes work together in a treatment plant to achieve our design objectives. More importantly, the field trip underscores the size and complexity of the things we build.”

In these and many other ways, it’s clear that Becker’s efforts to be accessible to students are extraordinary. She makes time in the evening to offer review sessions before exams to ensure students have possible opportunities to work out misconceptions and clear up confusion before the exam. Additionally, Becker holds her office hours in the CEE Student Success Center (SSC). Surveys of students have indicated they value the group sessions that occur naturally in this space.

One of Becker’s students echoes this, saying “Becker’s dedication to her students’ learning is just one quality that raises the bar for professors everywhere. Her willingness to help students succeed extends beyond the classroom, where she responds to emails promptly and accommodates students’ needs by taking time out of her busy schedule to help them, even at odd hours, until they feel confident with the material. Becker also aids students by letting them know exactly what is expected from them and holds them to a high standard, which demonstrates true concern for her students’ education.”

Dean Callahan summarizes Becker’s contributions well, saying “It is inspiring to see faculty such as Becker who are so highly engaged with their students. Her hard work is a great help of her students’ learning, both undergraduate and graduate students alike.”

Becker will be recognized at an end-of-term event with other showcase members, and is also a candidate for the CTL Instructional Award Series (to be determined this summer) recognizing introductory or large-class teaching, innovative or outside the classroom teaching methods, or work in curriculum and assessment.


NSBE Students Reach Out to Detroit Schools

Six members of Michigan Tech’s student chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) Pre-College Initiative (PCI) reached a total of 1,500 students during their 8th Annual Alternative Spring Break in Detroit March 9-11, 2020. Our students spent their spring break visiting six middle and high schools in Detroit to encourage students to consider college and a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) career.

During the school day, the Michigan Tech students made classroom presentations to middle and high school students encouraging them to continue their education after high school, consider going to college or community college, and choose a STEM career path. After the school day ended, the NSBE students conducted K-8 Family Engineering events at two K-8 schools for students and their families, and at a Boys & Girls Club in Highland Park.

Participating students included:

The schools visited included:

  • Osborn High School
  • Detroit Arts HS
  • Mackenzie Middle School
  • University Prep Math & Science Middle School
  • University Prep Academy of the Arts Middle School
  • Neinas Academy Middle School

The NSBE students made a special stop at the Fauver-Martin Boys & Girls Club on the afternoon of March 10 to put on a hands-on engineering event for 30 K-12 students from across the city. This event was organized by Mike Reed from the Detroit Zoological Society, who also invited Michael Vaughn, the first president of MTU’s NSBE student chapter in 1995.

The goal of the NSBE classroom presentations and Family Engineering events are to engage, inspire, and encourage diverse students to learn about and consider careers in engineering and science through hands-on activities and providing ‘hometown’ role models (most of the participating NSBE students are from the Detroit area). These programs are designed to address our country’s need for an increased number and greater diversity of students skilled in STEM (math, science, technology, and engineering). 

This MTU NSBE chapter’s outreach effort is funded by General Motors and the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering and coordinated by Joan Chadde, director of the Michigan Tech Center for Science & Environmental Outreach. High school students at these schools are also encouraged to apply to participate in a 5-day High School Summer STEM Internship at Michigan Tech from July 13-17, 2020 that is specifically targeting underrepresented students. Each participating student will be supported by a $700 scholarship. The Detroit high school students are also informed of scholarships available to attend MTU’s Summer Youth Programs.

For more information about the MTU-NSBE student chapter’s Alternative Spring Break, contact NSBE student chapter President, Bryce Stallworth or Chadde.

By Joan Chadde.


Online Science and Engineering Fair

Boy Watching Video

In a classic example of turning lemons into lemonade, organizers of the Western U.P. Science and Engineering Fair are turning a disappointing situation into a new and exciting endeavor. 

The 22nd edition of the fair, which was to have been held Wednesday (March 18) in the Memorial Union Building, did not take place as planned. More than 125 students from Houghton, Keweenaw, Baraga, Ontonagon and Gogebic counties in grades four through eight were registered for the event. Due to directives to not gather in large groups and to maintain social distancing, the science and engineering fair didn’t take place. But that’s not to say it was cancelled. 

Emily Gochis, director of the Western UP MiSTEM Network and, in turn, the director of the Western U.P. Science Fair, said organizers have moved the fair to an online platform. 

“We wanted to offer this alternative method because we know how hard our students, parents and teachers have worked to develop and complete projects,” Gochis said. 

Under the new format, students as individuals or in pairs may use their assigned project numbers to submit a recorded project interview, photographs of the display board and a digital copy of the written report. The project numbers were provided to the students last week.

Gochis feels many of the students are up to this new challenge. “We are asking our students to be creative problem solvers and felt that we could do the same for them by developing a new submission process using out-of-the-box thinking and available technology in an authentic way.”

Gochis recognizes that not all students will have access to their projects or the needed technology with schools closed. “For that reason, projects can be submitted up to two weeks after K-12 classes resume,” she added. 

Students can submit projects by uploading photos, documents and a recording to a Google Drive folder identified by their assigned project number. “If needed, students can use FlipGrid, a free video capturing platform to record and submit their project interviews, up to five minutes in length,” Gochis said. 

In the face of a prolonged school closure, many parents are scrambling to find homeschooling options for their children. Gochis says participating in the science and engineering fair can certainly be of help.

“Science and Engineering Fair projects are one of the many ways for students to keep learning at home during school closures. A comprehensive student guide that includes a series of worksheets to help students and parents conduct a science investigation is located on the Western MiSTEM Network’s webpage.

Gochis said she realizes this new process isn’t ideal but she wanted to provide a mechanism for as many registered students to submit their projects as possible and felt this was better than canceling completely. 

“We have never tried this before and appreciate everyone’s patience as we work through this for the first time.”

Students and parents can receive a step-by-step online submission guide or direct any questions to Gochis via email. 

By Mark Wilcox.