Science and Technology

Engineering profession comes alive for learning community students


A new residential learning community is giving some first-year engineering students a jump on the practice of engineering. Their first project: Create video games that address learning difficulties encountered by second-grade students.

"If we can challenge the students to do this their first semester their freshman year, that is going to set them up to be so successful in the next couple of years and beyond," said Dr. Jacquelyn Nagel, assistant professor of engineering. "They are learning skills to be successful in engineering."

The engineering residential learning community has 15 students living together in Chesapeake Hall and taking an advanced project class, Engineering 280. The project they do in the learning community is in addition to the introductory engineering course.

Mark Castro, a member of the community, said living with fellow engineering majors makes it easier to collaborate and learn together. He also said the community has helped him become more involved and develop closer relationships with his professors.

One of the first steps in their video game project was interviewing second grade teachers to find out what their students struggle with. "That went really well," Nagel said. "They came in with great questions, really drawing on the user-centered design they learned in Engineering 101."

To get a sense for how engineers can incorporate ideas from nature in the things they design, Dr. Amy Goodall gave the students a guided tour of the Edith J. Carrier Arboretum and they attended a lecture by Nagel on bio-inspired design.

While the video game project required the students to do some computer programming and use some other technical skills, the overarching goal of the learning community goes beyond skills training, said Dr. Kyle Gipson. "It has been more of an approach to help them see that they are part of a community, a local community and a larger community, that creates solutions for a better quality of life," he said. "The approach has always been to teach them to be focused on their environment, and to draw not only inspiration, but also potential solutions based off their surroundings."

In addition to faculty advisers, the students in the learning community are being mentored by upper-class engineering majors Jeremy Davis, Nima Geurin, David Hieronymus, Kiara Pontious, Natalie Jones and Thomas Kaisen, who are all part of the Madison Engineering Leadership Program.

The video game project lasted through the fall semester, but the RLC is continuing this semester. Rather than delving into a design project, the class may tour a variety of businesses to give them a feel for diverse practices in engineering and work on defining their professional persona.

"We have been able to set an environment that I personally believe has allowed our students to make a nice transition into college, and also into the engineering discipline," said Gipson.

By Josh Kelly ('15), JMU Public Affairs

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Published: Thursday, January 22, 2015

Last Updated: Tuesday, February 9, 2021

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