Introduction

Once, several years ago I was talking with my husband Abdul, an Electrical Engineering (EE) graduate of Georgia Tech, about planning I was working on for the honors program at Southern Polytechnic State University (SPSU)—now Kennesaw State University (KSU). At one point in our conversation, he beamed approvingly at me and gave me his highest compliment, “you think like an engineer.”

I was reminded of Abdul’s compliment when I sat down with Maria Isabel Garcia, the subject of my interview for this blog post.  What does it mean to think like an engineer? What do engineers do as they think that makes their thinking process so important?  Why is this type of thinking so important to my husband? This blog post concerns Maria Isabel Garcia and the women who are part of the engineering and engineering technology faculty at KSU.

Maria Isabel Garcia

For the past semester Maria Isabel Garcia has thoughtfully and often passionately responded to the readings in my Honors World Literature class. For her blog posts she has attempted not only to puzzle out her own understanding of the texts, but she has also sometimes scoured the Internet for relevant cultural text and images that link to issues raised in the literature. When I sat down to interview her for my blog post, I found out that Maria Isabel, who was born in Colombia and raised in the United States, is even more passionate about defining her own story. She told me that she believes people must fight to tell and live their own stories.

Maria Isabel Garcia in my office.
Maria Isabel Garcia in my office.

Clearly Maria Isabel has been busy living and engineering her own story. Born into a family of engineers (her father and uncle are electrical engineers and her mother is an industrial engineer), it’s not surprising Maria Isabel is majoring in Electrical Engineering at Kennesaw State University (KSU). When asked about her decision to pursue this major, Maria Isabel told me that when she was taking Advanced Placement Physics in high school, she realized during the electrical unit that she was quite good with circuits. For her working with circuits was like solving a puzzle: she needs to solve one piece and then look to how the next piece connects and  falls into place. Currently she loves the challenges and rewards her current circuits teacher uses in his class: he rewards students with additional points if they can think of how to solve a problem in a different way.

From what I have observed of Maria Isabel, it’s clear that she has the credentials to study at Georgia Tech instead of Southern Polytechnic State University (SPSU)—the name of the university before it merged with KSU. She said that two things led her to choose SPSU instead: affordability and the fact that friends had chosen SPSU. Maria Isabel is happy with her choice. She likes that the campus is small and that she has gotten to know her professors. She also likes that she feels safe on campus and that she is part of a diverse community.

When Maria Isabel talked about the diverse community of students on the campus, she wasn’t pinpointing only the usual groupings that people focus on when diversity is mentioned. She was also talking about students with rural, urban, and suburban backgrounds. She likes that she has had the chance to learn the stories of classmates who grew up in areas different from her own, even when the area is only 50 miles away in rural Georgia. Maria Isabel finds that she gets a great sense of culture and a greater sense of the world from her discussions with others at KSU on the Marietta Campus.

Maria Isabel also likes that as a Resident Assistant (RA) for Housing on the Marietta Campus she has received the opportunity to work on the international student floor of Hornet Village. She has learned from European and Chinese students about college experiences in their countries. For example, she learned that the college experience is much more focused on academics in these countries—gymnasiums/wellness centers such as those on the Kennesaw and Marietta campuses are a rarity in Europe and China.

When asked about what she has learned from working as an RA, Maria Isabel emphasized patience and communication. She says that she has learned to trust the process of listening closely and of validating the feelings of those who may be caught up in disagreements. In these cases she tries to help others build interpersonal skills and to take care of themselves and their rooms.

Clearly Maria Isabel is curious and willing to learn from all of her encounters so I wanted to know more about how being part of the Honors College has benefited her. Because Maria Isabel was fortunate enough to attend a great high school, she is already familiar with the types of small class sizes and discussion-based classes offered in the Honors College. She is also already familiar with the ways that the Honors College promotes deep, independent thought. In fact, she was AP student of the year during high school, an honor that goes to independent thinkers who are unafraid to speak up in classes in thoughtful ways.

What Maria Isabel values most highly from the Honors College is that it brings more interdisciplinary opportunities her way. She also likes the creativity valued in honors courses since her studies are otherwise quite engineering based. Maria Isabel loves the nurturing atmosphere of the honors office and the fact that Latosha James, the administrative assistant, really knows the students. She also loves the way in which the college has helped her to connect with others. Maria Isabel has built strong friendships with other honors students, such as the one she has with Wesley Carlsen, who is also an EE major.

Maria Isabel likes that the Honors College offers opportunities to take part in events, but she is often too busy to take advantage of them. She sees getting a college education much like her primary job. Given that she works in the bookstore and as an RA, she has numerous jobs and is kept quite busy.

In the meanwhile Maria Isabel is trying to bequeath what she has learned to her younger brother. As she has learned to both embrace her native cultural identity, she is also embracing aspects of the U.S culture, her adopted country. Living at the crossroads of these two cultures can mean succumbing to the latter, but Maria Isabel is proud of her Colombian heritage and shares this with her brother, who is a senior in high school. She also shares with him her love of the Internet as a tool for learning.

As Maria Isabel looks to the future, she finds that research opportunities, such as the one she worked on with Sandip Das, an assistant professor in Electrical Engineering, has begun to lead her to consider clean energy as a career interest. She also finds that she is debating just where she wants to work. There are numerous places other than Atlanta that she finds interesting. I’m sure she will need to think deeply and passionately about her choices since, after all, she is busy fighting to put together the pieces of her life story.

The Engineering and Engineering Technology Women Faculty Members

As the engineering and engineering technology programs have grown on the Marietta campus of KSU, the number of women who teach courses in these fields has also grown . Here is a listing of women faculty, alphabetically by department.

 Civil Engineering (CE) and Civil Engineering Technology (CET)

Nancy Turner is a senior lecturer in CET. She have been teaching since 1987. Her specialty is structural technology, and she currently teaches CET 3110L – Construction Materials Lab, CET 3210 – Structural Mechanics, CET 2200 – Introduction to Structures, ENGT 3124 & 3124L – Strength of Materials with Applications & Lab, and ENGT 2214 – Statics with Applications. Nancy has also taught in the Construction Management and Architecture Departments. Nancy serves as the KSU faculty adviser for the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Concrete Canoe competition team. Yes, there is actually such a team—I had my doubts about the worthiness of a concrete canoe when I first arrived on campus in 1999, but I now appreciate the concrete canoe as much as I would any mascot for the campus.

Roneisha Worthy is an
 Assistant Professor
 in the CET Department. Her specialty is Environmental Engineering. She currently teaches CET 3320–Wastewater Collection and Treatment, CET 3320L–Wastewater Collection and Treatment Lab, CET 4310 –Stormwater Management and Erosion Control, CET 4310L–Erosion Control Lab, and ENGR 2214-04–Engineering Mechanics – Statics.

Electrical Engineering (EE), and Electrical and Computer Engineering Technology (ECET)

Pam Frinzi is a Professor in the ECET Department. Her specialty is Digital Design. She teaches the following courses for the program: ECET 1000–Orientation, ECET 1011–Fundamentals, ECET 1200–Digital I, ECET 2300–Electronics I, ECET 3400–Data Communications, ECET–3600 Test Engineering, and special topics classes on Universal Serial Bus, Serial ATA, and PCI Express.

Adimathara P. Preethy is an Associate Professor in the ECET Department. She teaches classes such as ECET 3710–Hardware Interfacing and Programming and ECET 3701–Embedded PCs.

Mechanical Engineering (ME) and Mechanical Engineering Technology

Simin Nasseri is an associate professor in the MET Department. Simin has worked professionally as a designer, managing director, and as a design engineer. She is the faculty advisor for the Student Chapter of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers as well as for the Car/Bike Restoring Team. Simin teaches ME 1311–MATLAB for Engineers and Applications, MET 4501–Engineering Computation using MATLAB, MET 1311–Manufacturing Processes, and ENGT 2124–Statics with Applications.

Loraine (Lori) Lowder is the Interim Department Chair and an Assistant Professor in the ME Department. Her research interests include image processing, computer-aided engineering, and cardiovascular biomechanics. She is also interested in performing research in the area of the scholarship of teaching and learning. Lori teaches ENGR 3122–Engineering Mechanics – Dynamics, ME 4801–Undergraduate Research in Mechanical Engineering, ME 4804–Undergraduate Research in Mechanical Engineering, ME 3101–Materials Science and Engineering, ME 3903–Special Topics Biomechanics, and ENGR 2501–Engineering Materials.

Laura Ruhala is an Associate Professor in the ME Department.  Prior to earning her PhD, she worked for nine years at General Motors. Her research areas include damage control orthopedics,  impact of airplane wings, and the biomechanic effects of long hair in athletics. She, her husband Richard, and some researchers from Georgia Tech have also studied the sound level of vuvuzelas, the horns made popular by the 2010 World Cup, and found that when the horns are blown in concert with many others that the sound approaches 120 decibels, leading to their being banned at the Olympics. Laura has taught ME 1001–Introduction to Mechanical Engineering, ENGR 2214–Statics, ENGR 3131–Strength of Materials, ENGR–3201 Product Realization, and ME–4201 Senior Design I

Systems Engineering (Now Systems and Industrial Engineering)

Renee Butler is the Assistant Dean for Operations in the Southern Polytechnic College of Engineering and Engineering Technology and an Associate Professor in the Systems and Industrial Engineering Department. Her research interests are in strategic supply chain planning and applied operations research. In addition to her university experience, Dr. Butler has worked for M&M, Mars, Inc. and The Torrington Company. She has taught SYE 2300–Economic Decision Analysis, SYE 3300–Program Management, 6070–Logistics and Supply Chain Management, and SYE 6075–Warehousing and Inventory Systems.

Industrial and Engineering Technology (IET)

Christina Scherrer is an associate professor in the IET Department. As part of the consolidation, this department is merging with Systems Engineering and is becoming the Systems and Industrial Engineering Department. Christina previously worked for Delta Air Lines, both in operational reliability and in pricing. Her research interests include the area of applications of industrial engineering to the public sector and education research.  Christina has taught the following courses: IET 2227–Introduction to Statistics, IET 2449 –Logistics and Supply Chain Management, IET 3320–Advanced Logistics, QA 5000–Statistical Concepts for Quality Assurance, QA 6610–Statistics for Quality Assurance, QA 6611–Statistical Process Control, and QA 7403–Graduate Seminar. Christina also teaches in the Systems Engineering Department.

Conclusion

In reading back through Maria Isabel’s interview and the information on women who teach engineering and engineering technology, I attempted to puzzle out what it is that they do when they think. One thing that stuck out to me is how much these courses deal with materials, design, computations, and systematic thinking. The courses the women teach ask students to apply theoretical knowledge in hands-on ways. To complete projects in engineering it seems to me that must juxtapose two pictures in one’s mind: what the final outcome should be and the details necessary to reach that outcome.

When I examine my field of study (English), I see that it does not preclude applied thinking or the ability to see both the product and the details necessary to create the product in balancing frames of thought. However, I often sit down to write in order to simply figure out what I am thinking on a subject, or I read and get lost in either the story or a theoretical understanding of a text without puzzling things out for a larger purpose. Maybe engineers also just tinker, so to speak. Maybe Maria Isabel will, in fact, simply allow her story to evolve naturally—whatever that might mean.

 

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