The New Madison Engineer
By: Daniel Vieth and Jeffrey Thelin
It can take many years, but over time every department on a college’s campus begins to develop their own identity. More than their curriculums and classes offered, the faculty and students who make up these departments are what give each their own personality and spark. Though one of the newer programs on campus, the James Madison Department of Engineering is well on its way to creating their own identity that stands out from other engineering programs in the state and across the nation. Thanks to the hard work of the faculty and staff, the James Madison Department of Engineering has created its own individual definition of what it means to be a “Madison Engineer.”
Within the Madison Engineering Department the engineering faculty and staff are dedicated to creating opportunities aimed at fostering a greater communal atmosphere within the Department. “We are there to help our department create activities that help the students identify with being an engineer, and more importantly identify with being a Madison Engineer,” explained Dr. Kyle Gipson. As faculty and staff members, we wanted to answer key questions for our students so that they can truly grasp what the program is as a whole. What does it mean to be a Madison Engineer? What Makes Madison Engineering Unique? And why would prospective students want to become a Madison Engineer?
A Madison Engineer is an individual who combines knowledge and action, seeks sustainable solutions and strives to make a difference. “My own personal opinion of what it means to be a Madison Engineer is an individual who can solve problems by first being able to frame the problems, being able to come up with the defining questions and then being able to do those experiments,” said Gipson. “Also being empathetic to the individuals or the individual that they’re trying to create solutions for.” The program pushes its students with project-based collaborative learning experiences and teaches them to understand the needs and interactions of the people they design for. “What they can do in addition to [working through equations] is understand what the impact is of the decision that they’d made,” said engineering professor Dr. Jacquelyn Nagel.
The Department separates itself from other engineering programs by going beyond just teaching technical skills, with its first-year projects, year-long sophomore service-learning project, and two year long capstone experience.. “Students have great opportunity here to craft and mold their degree to what type of career they would like to have once they leave JMU,” explains Nagel. “Students can get involved with faculty research, and they can certainly get involved in independent studies if there’s a topic they really want to learn more about.” The Department expects students to make a difference both on and off of campus through their sophomore, junior and senior projects, as well as through very active engineering student organizations. These curricular and extracurricular opportunities are helping Madison Engineering create the “engaged engineer”.
The Department is also in the process of creating an enhanced first year experience for its freshmen and transfer students, which will allow them to be better acclimated with the other students and staff, in addition to opportunities and expectations in the program. Some of these first year activities will include two courses, one focused on engineering opportunities, and a second one focused on engineering decisions, the creation of a freshmen engineering residential learning community. and Madison Engineering events that allow students and faculty to share time with each other outside of class. “That’s all within the first year,” said Gipson, “making an impact where you live, making an impact for a sustainable future.” These students will discover community needs for which they can begin to craft solutions as first-year students. “There’s a number of projects that the students have to go through,” explains Nagel. “These are semester long projects, yearlong projects, and even two-year long projects.” Many of these projects link directly with some of the grand challenges that are facing the world today, such as making solar power more affordable and having cleaner water in Sub-Saharan Africa.
“I believe [students] would want to become a Madison Engineer because from the time they walk in the doors, they have the opportunity to make an impact,” said Gipson. “If they take the challenge, they will have the skills, hopefully we will [create] the motivation, and they will have the ability to go forward and produce sustainable, and viable solutions, not only just for mankind, but for a better quality of life.” As JMU’s Department of Engineering continues to grow, their definition of what it means to be a Madison Engineer has evolved with them. Through the different opportunities established by the Department, the new Madison Engineer will be a proactive, forward-thinking student and lifelong learner who strives to positively impact the world. “For me, that is what it means to be a Madison Engineer,” Gipson exclaimed.