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About this series: This is the 13th installment in a series of features celebrating the first graduating class of the JMU Department of Engineering. When JMU started the school four years ago, it set out to develop a program unlike any other. Through this series, you will see how the students and faculty have done just that, concentrating their efforts on teaching and learning the four pillars of sustainability that future engineers must embrace, not only to succeed in their profession, but to make meaningful contributions in the communities they choose to work in. The series will continue each week through May, when graduates of the JMU Department of Engineering take part in the spring commencement ceremony for the first time.

Electrical Engineering? One Class Changed DiMarino's Outlook

Senior Christina DiMarino will begin working on a doctorate in electrical engineering next year. She has yet to choose where, but she has been accepted at Virginia Tech and the University of Maryland.

What is your favorite class?

PHOTO: Christina DiMarinoI'd probably have to say my circuits and instrumentation course just because it completely changed my outlook on engineering. I came into the program not knowing what discipline of engineering I eventually wanted to end up in, but for some reason I had it in my mind that I didn't want to do electrical engineering, but then I was required to take the circuits and instrumentation course my junior year, and I was terrified. I was like, "I'm going to be terrible at this. There is no way I'm going to be good at this." Of course, I ended up loving it, and now I'm going to graduate school for electrical engineering — the one aspect of engineering I did not think I would like. So that's part of why I am so glad I chose JMU engineering, or otherwise I would never have pursued what has come to be my passion.

Have you found a well-balanced academic path to compliment your engineering major?
I am getting minors in physics and mathematics. I did the math minor because it's only one additional course and I really wanted to take a statistics class because in engineering we've really just been focused on calculus and differential equations, and I thought it would be good to get the statistics side of math as well — especially for graduate school. And then the physics minor I didn't actually pick up until last semester, so I'm trying to fit a physics minor in in one year. It's been tough, especially with the honors requirements I need to take because I am an honors scholar, but I really chose the physics minor after realizing how much I liked electrical engineering. I sought out classes in physics because physics has digital electronics, robotics, microcontroller and other courses like that where I could really get great depth for the subject of electrical engineering.

Have you worked with professors outside of your normal classes?
I have two jobs with two different professors. Since my sophomore year, I've been a teaching assistant and a research assistant. It's a lot more hours added to my schedule, but both have been so worth the effort, and both of them are paid positions. My sophomore year, one of my design professors, Dr. Eric Pappas, approached me about wanting me to work with him. I initially started by taking an experimental class that he teaches called ISAT 480. It strays from engineering a little bit because it has more to do with cognitive processes and different types of thinking skills. It was a fascinating class and I ended up being a teaching assistant immediately after I took it. I also have been on a research grant with him through the National Science Foundation for engineering education and sustainability. We actually have a created an online STEM library where we compile articles on sustainability, engineering education, design, gender roles in the sciences and other categories similar to those. They are up there for anyone who is interested in those kinds of topics but kind of struggle to find articles. I'm also a teaching assistant for the circuits and instrumentation class. That's for Dr. Keith Holland. He knew that I was interested in graduate school and particularly interested in one day going back to teach. It's really been fantastic to get a taste of what it is like.

Do you see yourself teaching on the collegiate level some day?
PHOTO: DiMarino studyingAbsolutely. Teaching will absolutely happen one day. I know that I want to go into industry for at least a little bit, just to get a feel for what it's like so when I do go back to teach, I can talk from experience. I feel that this is important because not all students are going to go to graduate school. Many are going to go into industry, and I want to be able to relate to all students no matter what their areas of expertise.

Do you have a favorite aspect of JMU?
The atmosphere. It's just so friendly and laid-back. It's not competitive like the really intense R-1, or Research-1, schools. It's pretty dog-eat-dog at those schools. Here, we're all working together. We all care about everyone succeeding.

Are there other benefits of JMU that you have been moved by?
I love the student-faculty relationship here. I mean, all my professors know my name, and I absolutely love that and I feel so comfortable walking into their offices, and I felt that way as a freshman and sophomore. As long as you show them that you're putting in the effort — that you're trying but you're just a little bit confused on certain things — they are more than willing to help you. They love it when you come to them with questions. And I can go to them with stuff outside of class too, which I love just as much. I didn't know what I wanted to do after graduation and I didn't necessarily need to approach them about it. They actually approached me. They cared enough to want to know what I was interested in and if I had any thoughts about graduate school. It's so great that they care enough to really reach out.

Series At A Glance