James Madison University

Mixer Generates New Ideas for Engineering Major

By: Sandy Jolles
Posted: October 11, 2013

PHOTO: JMU Students Collaborate

Competing in an on-the-spot design project may sound difficult, but members of the JMU Engineering community were prepared to meet the challenge. The inaugural MAD(E) Mixer event occurred on September 28 and gathered over 60 participants, including students, faculty, staff, alumni, and families. 

Engineering students who participated in the voluntary event had 90 minutes to build a team of mixed academic levels and alumni and come up with fresh ideas to improve and enrich the engineering major.  The purpose of the activity was not only to generate ideas, but also allow collaboration between different class levels.  Each team was responsible for brainstorming ideas that could potentially be implemented in a month.

As part of the challenge, each team created a poster to present their ideas.  Completed posters were shared and participants were invited to vote on their favorite ideas.  Awards were given out based on event day voting. 

The expectation of the design challenge was to prepare each student in a real-life business scenario, in which they will have to create novel solutions to hard problems.

The Department Head’s Choice award went to a poster demonstrating a concept called “Lounge Spread” -a space where students can relax and share ideas, and where innovative ideas are recognized, rewarded and refined. 

According to JMU alumni Michael Kessler, this idea of a student lounge had been “previously voiced by both faculty and students.”    

“The student lounge in this case is just a generic space to host a growing community within the engineering program,” Kessler said.  “The novel idea was to have a computer system that would provide a space to post questions either solicited by students or faculty and require students to login.”

PHOTO: Posters hanging on wallThe popular vote award went to ‘Engineering Monthly’, a fictitious engineering newsletter that would have a monthly focus on one particular engineering field.  The newsletter included discussion seminars and guest lecturers with professionals in that field, as well as articles pertaining to alumni success stories, internships, and job openings.

JMU alumna Paulina Hoang hopes her team’s newsletter idea will inspire other engineering students who may feel a little unsure as to their career path after college. “This idea inspired me because I wasn't very certain what I wanted to do until much later. With this idea, many students can be informed in which direction they want to gear their classes and capstone projects towards,” Hoang said. “This creation will also create ambition in the students, picturing themselves in the professional world.”

For Hoang, returning to JMU for this competition was a ‘pleasure.’

“Not only JMU itself, as a university, is a large part of my life, but the department of engineering created a close-knitted ‘family’ environment for me,” Hoang said.  “I always felt like a part of the department.”

During a department retreat in August, the engineering program sought to establish new traditions, including a revolutionized kickoff event.   The traditional Freshman Fling evolved into the MAD(E) Mixer, promoting food and fellowship.

According to Kurt Paterson, the head of the Department of Engineering, faculty saw this as the first of a series of “MAD(E) events, “celebrating the Madison Engineering community and experience.”
Paterson’s role in the process was to build enthusiasm and appreciation for each staff, faculty, and student member who contributes to the overall experience of MAD(E).

“The students and faculty are absolutely brilliant and fully committed to crafting one of the world's best undergraduate engineering programs,” Paterson said.

“The MAD(E) Mixer is focused on a design challenge but in a social setting,” Paterson said. “Not only is it an opportunity to make a difference through design, but also gives students much needed project experience while expanding their professional reputations.”

“I think the purpose was to grow the sense of community within the engineering program and solicit assistance for ideas as to how make the experience better for all those involved,” Kessler said.

This year, for the first time, the kickoff event was inclusive of the entire engineering community.  The department also invited a few sponsors including Friendship Industries and Engineering Solutions, both local companies. 

“This event allowed all years to intermingle to encourage building community and departmental identity,” said Assistant Professor, Elise Barrella, who was the coordinator of the event.  “Because engineering students do not mix in classes together until junior or senior year, freshmen and sophomores don’t have many opportunities to mingle with upperclass engineering students.”

“With the program being fairly new, both faculty and students would like to see a growing relationship with alumni and others in the community,” Kessler said.  “I know as a recent graduate, it is desirable to have people who can help students when leaving college with potential contacts for that first job or perhaps to engage in a collaborative entrepreneurial effort.”

Another goal of this kickoff event was to help students recognize fellow classmates in the hallways and build relationships early on.  According to Barella, the program could help ‘put a face to engineering.’ 

“Almost everyone there met someone they wouldn’t have met otherwise.  It gave engineering students an opportunity to have a stake in their education,” Barrella said.

Posters were on display in the engineering office and open for general/public voting. Barrella hopes this activity will shed more light on the Engineering department.

“The department is still a hidden gem within JMU,” Barrella said. “Hopefully, each student’s design solutions will be seen by other departments as well.”

 With the launch of the MAD(E) culture, the department hopes to implement additional social mixers and design challenges for the years to come.

According to Barrella, feedback on the event was “very positive.”

“It's another way for our students to get meaningful experiences while they are on campus,” Paterson said. “It will clearly be another reason that Madison Engineering resonates with the minds and hearts of students, alumni, employers, faculty and staff.”