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About this series: This is the ninth 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.

Passion for Technology Led Nagel Into Engineering Career

Dr. Jacquelyn Nagel says she never gave much thought to entering a male-dominated field, and although she participates in outreach events to attract young girls to technology fields, she has never really considered herself a role model.

PHOTO: Jacquelyn NagelNagel, an assistant professor of engineering, became interested in working with technology at a young age, watching and helping her father take apart anything with a motor and putting things back together. Those tasks seemed much more appealing than playing with dolls, she said. When it came time to replace her car radio, she wanted to know how everything worked and helped with that too.
In high school, the Kansas City native knew she wanted to work with computers and technology, but she couldn't take those courses until she was a junior. She opted for drafting—using pencils and paper. It was her drafting teacher who introduced her to the field of engineering.

When the teacher asked Nagel if she had considered engineering as a career, she had no idea what engin eers did.  "He said, 'Well, engineers solve problems.' I thought, 'Well, that's awesome. I want to do that.' I was sold, right there."

Nagel earned bachelor's and master's degrees in engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology and then a doctorate at Oregon State University. When going for her doctorate, she was introduced to an aspect of engineering she knew little about, biomimicry, taking inspiration from nature to improve man-made technology.

PHOTO: Nagel and studentsHer interest was learning more about engineering design, specifically in the area of sensors. "I became really intrigued by the thought of how something is designed. Who needs to make those decisions? How are those decisions made? Who needs to say, 'Your sensor must include this, this and this?' And then, how is it manufactured and so on."

Her innovative work involving biomimicry and sensors earned her a place as one of the National Engineer's Week Foundation's 2012 New Faces of Engineering.

Nagel, who worked in the engineering industry throughout her college years, said she decided to pursue a teaching career because she enjoys interacting with students and the rewards of teaching. "The beneficiaries of what I do are the students. So now I feel like I'm giving something back. I've always been service oriented and wanting to give back or volunteer and help others, so I feel this is a way that I can do that."

Coming to a new program also was intriguing. "We're teaching students to think like engineers," she said, noting that her interests span many engineering sub-disciplines and that undergraduates do not need to be studying just one aspect of the field. "Coming to a program like this, I really feel I can use all of my interests," she said. "I can be more versatile in a classroom, I can challenge the students to think, 'OK, what are the connections between this electrical system and this mechanical system?'"

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