University of Wisconsin Madison College of Engineering

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Winners of the 2012 Connect for Life student essay contest. »

Winners of the 2011 Connect for Life student essay contest. »

Read what students have to say about the impact of giving on their student experience. »

Watch video essays on the role of giving in the lives of engineering students. »  

 

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Connect for Life is dedicated to building greater awareness of the impact of giving on current students and recent graduates. We also seek to create more meaningful ways for engineering alumni to stay involved and engaged with current students.

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2012 essay contest

Students who participated in the 2012 essay contest submitted an answer to this question: "If you had $5,000 to donate to the College of Engineering, how would you like the college to use it to make the greatest difference in engineering students' overall college experience, and why?"

The top essay-writer, Max Bock-Aronson, earned an iPad—plus, the college will donate $5,000 to implement his idea!

FIRST PLACE
Max Bock-Aronson, ME '13
I’ve erased the first four sentences for my submission to the Connect for Life essay contest for a second time, and I realize the only things on my desk are a half-full coffee and a college-ruled notebook with empty lines. With a sigh of frustration, I let my mind wander.First come thoughts of building better bicycle accessories. I stay with bicycles for a moment, but soon I am outlining ideas for an early-warning detection system for underground earthquakes that utilizes choral reef vibration and wildlife movement. My mind jumps again, and now I am brainstorming different interactive public art installations designed to engage children while also subconsciously teaching the basic principals of physics, biology and astronomy.

I stop for a moment. I’m not the only thinker on this campus. The problem is that I, like many students, have difficulty channeling my ideas. If only there was a platform built on a foundation of idea sharing in which I could meet and collaborate with students of similar interests, discover opportunities to work with local organizations on existing projects, or even be granted seed money to fund my own ideas.

Then it hits me like lightning. If I had $5,000 dollars to donate to the School of Engineering, I would begin an interdisciplinary, student think tank called TranscendENG. The organization would be a meeting ground for students trying to realize their ideas, collaborate on other student initiatives, or be connected to businesses with existing projects. The three main goals would be:

•    Promote entrepreneurship and facilitate student collaboration
•    Provide seed money for prototyping and/or project realization
•    Make real-world engineering opportunities more available to students from an earlier stage in their college careers

Initially, TranscendENG would serve to connect students and provide educational tools for innovators and entrepreneurs by facilitating workshops about seeking patents, protecting ones intellectual property, or effective brainstorming techniques. As time progresses, students would either work on business-hosted projects or apply to have their independent ideas hosted by TranscendENG. Students would be asked to give semester-ending presentations about their findings, and projects with enterprising qualities could be selected for further funding.

SECOND PLACE
Kate Slattery, ME '13

In high school, my sophomore geometry class was chosen to test out the new SMART Board that had been donated to our school. Both teachers and students in the math program prized this new tool and the following year SMART Boards were added to all of the math classrooms so that everyone could benefit from this technology.

A SMART Board combines the functions of a whiteboard and a projection screen, making the task of transitioning into digitally based learning easier for teachers and students. When operating as a whiteboard, a set of stylus pens can be used to write on the touchscreen. The SMART Board can also be used with a document camera to function as a projection screen and can display computer aided engineering programs, a graphing calculator and PowerPoint slides.

I am now a senior at UW-Madison majoring in Mechanical Engineering and have thought many times during the past four years about how useful it would be to have SMART Boards in engineering discussion classrooms. Discussion sessions are only 50 minutes long, and often the teaching assistants are given the task of covering a lengthy set of homework problems during this time. In order to work through a problem the instructor must pull down the projection screen to display the textbook. He then must roll up the screen to write on the whiteboard to solve the problem, sometimes repeating this process to look over the problem again before it has been completed.

With a SMART Board the instructor could project the textbook problems onto the touchscreen and would be able to solve the problem in a quicker and clearer manner. In addition, this would result in a more interactive learning process. For example, students would have the ability to come to the board to draw out forces directly on the diagrams included in the problems. This would greatly enhance the learning process and would increase the amount of material covered during a discussion session.

A gift of $5,000 from Connect for Life could purchase two SMART Boards, which could be placed in the two most frequented discussion rooms in Engineering Hall. The SMART Boards would be a valuable asset to students, professors and teaching assistants from all engineering majors, creating a more enjoyable and technologically advanced learning environment.

THIRD PLACE
Greg Guenther, ME '12
If I were able to donate $5,000 to the College of Engineering, I would decide to use the money to pursue a new student engineering group centered on 3-D printing. I would donate with the intent that a new student organization or research group would be started to build, educate and research rapid prototyping. There are many designs available online to build your own 3-D printer at home. The CoE Student Shop has already built one and is in the process of building another. The process would require students with a mechanical background to machine and build the 3-D printer’s components. It would also require those with interests in electrical engineering to properly wire a complex machine like a 3-D printer. And lastly, the project would require computer engineers to assist in the selection and installation of the software that the 3-D printer would require.

The money could be used to build at least 3-4 printers (at a cost of approximately $1,000 each). The remaining money could be used to buy stock to build the machine and and computer equipment to use the machine. The students in this group could also be in charge of educating and teaching other students how to use the printers in their academia and engineering organizations. Students in EGR 160, ME 249 and 349 are some I believe would directly benefit from the ability to learn to use a 3-D printer. The great thing about this idea is that it goes beyond just the construction of a 3-D printer.

Lastly, the students in this group would also be charged with the continued research of 3-D printing. They would seek and explore new options that have not yet been tried or challenged. Since many other engineering groups have brought recognition to the University, I believe this 3-D printing group could do that as well. This project would bring together multiple disciplines of engineering to work together as a team, in a setting where they normally would not interact. These RepRaps would not only provide them with the chance to grow as engineers, but would also directly affect the ability of other students to use a technology that is greatly unknown to them. 3-D printing is the way of the future, and we would do well to include young minds in the pursuit of its advancement.

FOURTH PLACE
Kara Novotny, ME '14
If somebody asked me to name a famous businessperson, I could list a few names without much thought. If somebody asked me to name a famous engineer, a quick response would not jump to the tip of my tongue. Why? A product or system takes the spotlight, while the engineer who designed it remains behind the scenes. Also, once engineers make their way up the corporate ladder, titles such as “senior manager,” “CEO,” or “entrepreneur” often overshadow the engineering backgrounds and foundations of these successful people.

Young people are also more likely to choose engineering as a major if they have successful engineers as role models, but it’s a matter of finding these genuine engineers underneath all the fluffy titles. The more our society associates engineering with people rather than with the newest technology, the sooner students will gain an interest to pursue engineering themselves. After all, there would be no engineered products without the engineers.

If I had $5,000 to donate to the CoE, I would work towards the addressed problem through two different ways. First, the money would pay for a glass display case with mini-biography plaques of engineers who graduated from UW-Madison and went on do to great things. Next to the plaque in the case would lay an interesting object they developed or designed during their career as an engineer. As students pass this case that celebrates our alumni and their accomplishments, they hopefully will be inspired to design something themselves that will end up in the case for all to see some day. Engineering student organizations are constantly hosting days for kids. The case would also be a great tour spot for SOAR or for outreach events because it introduces prospective students and kids to some Madison graduates who have engineered some phenomenal things.

Secondly, I would love to see an entrepreneur with an engineering background visit campus. It’d be ideal if this speaker has developed a product familiar to college kids. For example, Larry Page is the CEO of Google, and has a BS in engineering. He is a great role model for students, as an entrepreneur who has engineering roots and is now the CEO of one of the biggest companies in the world. An inspirational engineering speaker and the display case of alumni accomplishments will expose students and visitors to the amazing entrepreneurs who were once engineering students themselves at UW-Madison.

FIFTH PLACE
Christina Wallhausser, IE '13
At the University of Wisconsin Madison, diversity, innovation and change are strongly encouraged, especially within the College of Engineering. UW-Madison engineering students have contributed to major world improvements in fields ranging from healthcare to energy. Their reach and influence has proven to be world-class and continues to be as the College of Engineering grows and evolves.

There are some areas however where the college is not changing. The graduating class within engineering has averaged about 19% female for the past ten years (1). Furthermore, only about 10% of the practicing engineering workforce is female (2).  A recent report written by MIT social scientist Susan Silbey claimed the reason for low numbers in engineering is that women cannot picture themselves as a working engineer and they feel they “lack professional role confidence” (3). Because of this, females will either leave engineering to pursue a different STEM major or they do not actually work as engineer after graduating.

I am a female in engineering and I do often feel like a minority but I do not believe this is an issue of equity. I have worked as a team member for countless group projects and I have also worked two internships for a Fortune 500 company and I can confidently say this is a workforce issue. Engineering is a creative and innovative field that requires a variety of backgrounds and opinions ranging across both ethnicity and gender. It will require a completely diverse workforce to truly unleash the capabilities of this field.

If I had  $5,000 to donate to the College of Engineering at UW-Madison I would use it to create a UW-Madison COE Women’s Network consisting of three main pillars: professional engineering mentorship, outreach among female youth, and access to information and services pertinent for females engineers.

Because so many women can’t picture themselves working as an engineer I believe having access to female alumni and female professors through this network would help them to develop mentors and to better understand their contribution as an engineer post-graduation. This would greatly improve retention of females and would help get them more excited about their future career as an engineer.

Outreach among female youth would help to encourage young women to pursue a degree in engineering. The COE Women’s Network could work with student organizations such and Women in Nuclear (WIN) and the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) to gain a greater access to middle school and high school students throughout the state. I believe women often need more encouragement to pursue engineering, not to mention many of them are misinformed as to what exactly an engineer does. The Women’s Network could also pull on their alumni base to come in and explain various things they do as an actual engineer.

There are already a lot of services on campus specific for women in engineering, such as tutoring and diversity support, and the COE Women’s Network would help organize and promote them. This would be an excellent opportunity for the college to recruit more female engineering students because they could clearly see all the advantages available and it would also help them feel more welcome and accepted within the college.

This idea has potential for a large impact within the College of Engineering and the entire UW-Madison campus. It will directly impact the female engineering students already in the college as well as prospective students in years to come. It will benefit the entire student body in COE, both male and female, because having a higher number of female students will increase diversity, creativity and acceptance. Lastly, it will help strengthen alumni relations and create a stronger, more productive culture of Badgers both on campus and in the workplace around the world.

Sources:
1. http://registrar.wisc.edu/documents/Stats_DegCntsbyDegLvlandGenderwnAcadGroupandFY.pdf
2. University of Houston, Cullen College of Engineering. Dr. Julie Martin Trenor, 2007
3. http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2012/gender-engineering-profession-0404.html