Engineering

Meet JMU's Changemakers


 
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SUMMARY: First-year engineering students, Caroline Clay, Johanna Enzmann, Isabel Ledesma and Kristen Russell, spent much of the past year researching ways to protect the sharply declining honeybee population - a mission they believe will broaden their learning experience beyond the standard engineering curriculum.


By: Brett Seekford

How do bees and pollinators shape our world? First-year engineering students, Caroline Clay, Johanna Enzmann, Isabel Ledesma and Kristen Russell, spent much of the past year researching ways to protect the sharply declining honeybee population – a mission they believe will broaden their learning experience beyond the standard engineering curriculum. This outside-the-box choice has forced them to craft unique methods for confronting a major societal issue.

This collaborative experience is made possible by the Engineering Department’s recently established Changemaker Fellows program. As part of this highly selective program, Engineering faculty selected four students from numerous applicants to develop a team based research project relevant to the field of engineering.

In order to guide students through this research, the Changemaker Fellows program equips first-year students with funding and mentors so they can pursue personal and group research projects with the aim of improving society. Professors Keith Holland and Kurt Paterson have been integral to realizing the promise of this fellowship. 

“The Madison Engineering program encourages students to be curious and seek out problems, identify connections to solve those problems and to create value for the world. To this end, we wanted this program to provide a mentored experience where our scholarship recipients could learn about, develop and practice entrepreneurial habits of mind,” Holland said. 

Since being selected, the students have worked collectively to pinpoint a social issue for which they hope to make a difference. They are also tasked with considering their personal interests to pursue a project of their choosing. These innovative processes require them to think critically and place them outside of their comfort zones.

So far, their research on honeybees has led to the consideration of several approaches in their search to find methods for saving this species. Possible avenues for progress include establishing JMU as a “bee-friendly” campus, installing pollinator gardens and placing hives on campus or in the community. “We are still in the process of deciding how we are going to approach this project with the resources we have on campus and the support we have from our professors,” Ledesma explained. 

Along with the strides made in terms of their collaborative skills, the project has helped them reflect on professional interests while pursuing opportunities to integrate engineering principles into their project plans. These endeavors have helped shape their career paths.

Ledesma, for example, has always harbored a passion for teaching, leading her to concentrate on methods for integrating engineering curriculum in several different classes at the secondary level, from English literature to science courses.

“When I was in high school, I wanted to become a teacher, specifically an elementary teacher. In my project so far I have discovered children’s engineering, which is a field specializing in the creation of lesson plans for teachers that incorporate engineering ideas and design thinking into ordinary subjects like English and history,” Ledesma said. “I have been grateful to have the opportunity to speak with professors outside the discipline about how to proceed with combining these two passions in some way.”

Likewise, Enzmann finds the project rewarding as she seeks to understand the effect of aerospace engineering on human health during long spaceflight missions. 

“No one quite knew the scope of the fellowship at the outset but with our decision finalized, I think we all have high hopes to start small and move into making an impact on the university level or perhaps a much larger scale.”  The first phase of their work, a massive multi-player activity focused on bees, was recently integrated into the 2017 Madison Engineering xChange. Where the Changemakers go in future years is a work in progress.  “It’s exciting to see what happens for students when given time and support to explore,” says Engineering Department Head Kurt Paterson. “The Changemakers are not only doing something good for our local bee population, but also creating considerable buzz around effective ways to pollinate engineering excellence.”

Published: Monday, April 24, 2017

Last Updated: Monday, April 24, 2017

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