What directed you to a career as an engineering educator?

There are several instances when I was nudged towards a career in engineering education. However,there is one particular moment early on that stands out. At Union College, during my final undergraduate years, I was preparing to compete for the ASME regional speaking contest. When one of my favorite professors approached me and suggested, “Smitesh, you might want to consider teaching as a career. You have a knack for visually explaining things.” Suddenly everything fit. I realized being an educator will combine all that I cherish about engineering and draw from my strengths. Given that I was placed second in the following national speaking contest, certainly helped to convince me further. Subsequent, nudges came during my graduate days at University of Michigan TA-ing for my advisor’s Heat Transfer course.

What qualities do your students and colleagues most admire about
you as an educator?

From a personality standpoint, I would like to consider myself as someone who is very approachable. An attribute that probably stems from the fact that I believe everyone has something to offer. That said, if I were to list three things that I bring to Rowan’s community, they would include:

  1. My ability to combine technology and art for the benefit of learning.
  2. My ability to coalesce information and deliver a package with maximum impact.
  3. My ability to excite interest in students about things that I am passionate about.

It is equally important to note that being in an environment where these qualities are appreciated is rewarding. We have a department that is not shy of failing for trying something new and therefore is always ready to experiment. This attitude has strongly supported innovations that are taking place at Rowan.

Engineering is a notoriously rigorous field of study. What do you do to
encourage talented students to persist through graduation?

Being a premier undergraduate institution in south New Jersey, Rowan Engineering attracts a talented set of students who recognize what our program has to offer. Beyond this, our program offers a rigorous training for real-engineering through engineering clinics. Here students experience how engineering theory meets engineering practice. I strategically use my clinic projects to individually mentor students to provide a strong professional foundation. I am currently exploring platinum nanoparticles to support combustion at micrometer scales with the eventual application in portable power source device. This work is exclusively supported by undergraduate students who have little-to-no prior background in nanoparticle characterization or combustion, for that matter. This provides a great opportunity for me to motivate my students to take on a challenging task of independent exploration and problem solving. After the initial stages of being overwhelmed by the content, the students soon realize through appropriate management, persistent efforts to characterize the problem and good-old problem solving, any engineering challenge is tractable. The self-confidence and autonomy such projects encourage is paramount to becoming successful engineers. In addition, I am naturally excited about the things I work on. This serves as an
automatic buy-in for the students into the purpose of their efforts.

What are the most important engineering habits of mind you feel it is
your responsibility to pass on to your students? In general, how do
you mentor and guide students?

One of the greatest advantage for the field of engineering is that it is highly practical. Majority of the problems we face are not abstract but very much tangible. As a result, I encourage my students to think visually. To externalize their thought process using various tools available at our disposal. This includes, drawings, sketches, illustrations, and charts. For a senior elective I have developed a course that is fairly popular on many campuses these days, Introduction to Nanotechnology.(1) In addition to making the lectures exclusively visual with images from scientific literature, the students are forced to outline their projects using mind maps and deliver their presentations with minimal use of text without compromising the technical rigor. For my thermal-fluid science course, students submit visual examples of concepts being taught in lecture: examples of laminar versus turbulent flow over everyday objects for external flow, for instance. While there are many other engineering habits (some discussed in response to other questions), thinking visually can serve as very useful tool to engaging with the engineering problems.

How do you keep up with the changing demands of the employers of
your students?

Our students need to be resourceful and effective communicators to keep up with the changing demands of employers. As educators we recognize these two virtues intimately, but our students feel these are innate attributes of gifted individuals. It is our responsibility to address this misconception. I teach my courses by drawing content from conspicuously varied sources (scientific journals, news media reports, etc.) to help students appreciate evolving nature of knowledge and how to assess the quality of the content. I also enjoy providing a historical perspective on the engineering practices to help students contextualize their knowledge. These efforts are designed to make the process of learning transparent from students’ perspective, which in turn will promote independent learning. On the other hand, majority of my courses involve some aspect of technical communication (written or oral) to help students become better communicators - often involving slide-by-slide feedback on how to develop impactful presentations. Many of these aspects also apply to other professionals and as a result I have developed a short animation summarizing the key features of effective presentations for YouTube.com.(2,3)

Engineering faculty members are often described as being either good teachers or good researchers. What are the challenges of being good in both, and how do you manage those challenges? Where are your particular strengths in this regard?

In most cases, teaching and research are separate activities for an engineering faculty. At Rowan, our engineering clinics provide a robust platform for melding teaching with research. Engineering clinics span all four years of undergraduate curriculum where engineering students from all disciplines come together to solve practical hands-on problems.(4,5) Not only do I use engineering clinics to teach and conduct research, I use the research that I conduct to improve my teaching. Setting up an upward spiral of selfimprovement that helps me teach better and further pursue research. As an example, my technical research focusses on nanoparticles in combustion environments, while my educational research entails development of educational mobile apps. As a result of these projects, I have been able to publish my technical research in refereed journals and produce well-received apps. These experiences are crucial teaching moments for our students because they provide a glimpse into impact of their work; whether their work is used by thousands of teachers in the case of app development or contribute towards the scientific knowledge in the case of combustion research. Specifically, Pikme, an app that helps educators improve and track student participation in class has been highly popular.(6,7) The students keep the apps updated and are continuously adding new features that users demand. These real-world interactions are critical to prepare students for professional careers. At the same time, the development of Pikme was inspired by my need to connect with every student during my lectures and encourage my class to actively engage in their learning. In other words, my scholarly pursuit was inspired by my teaching which ultimately improved my instruction. Therefore, while there are challenges to managing both teaching and research interests, I have discovered a strong synergy that yields a win-win situation.

What resources does ASEE provide to help you do your job better?

ASEE provides a community of like-minded individuals who are passionate about teaching and who are engaged in a constant battle of self-improvement. Nowhere this is more evident than each year at the national conferences. Anyone who attends these conferences is surprised by the number and topical breadth of presentations. Even though some papers are making only incremental progress, the ability to directly engage with the educators and share ideas is invaluable. I always come away with new insights into what I do and energized to refine my efforts. At the last conference in Atlanta, GA, I was presenting my latest app evaluA+ that allows teachers to use the iPad as a rubric-based grading tool on the go - to completely digitizing assessment and feedback.(8,9) During a poster session following my talk I struck up a conversation with a fellow educator who I realized shared my interest for developing activities for engineers using mobile apps. We decided it was best to team up to collaborate on a future project. Attending these conferences over the summer also provides a timely moment for reflection and plan the year ahead. As a result, I have attended and presented at every national conference since I completed my Ph.D., and plan to continue in the future.

What is the best benefit of being an ASEE member?

As highlighted above, I can summarize here as two key benefits:

  1. Access to pedagogical research, resources and news. 
  2. A platform to connect with well experienced educators. 


How can ASEE better serve you (and the larger engineering education community)?

In addition, to the accompanying exhibitions at the conferences by educational vendors, I would like to see ASEE highlighting technological innovations and tools that are coming into the educational scene. Education is going through major changes as a result of new technologies and I encourage ASEE to be at the forefront of highlighting these tools and how they are being implemented. I would like to give piazza.com as an example. Piazza is a wonderful classroom discussion tool for instructors that I discovered while attending the exhibition at the national conference. Such tools need to reach more educators via avenues other than just at conferences.

What are a few things you enjoy outside of work - things that make you, you?

I am a technology geek. I love reading about it and exploring new ways of doing the same old things. Many of my educational app ideas are a result of this interest. Hence it makes for a great overlap between work and play. Secondly, I find great comfort and inspiration within visual arts and aesthetics. I enjoy illustrating and graphic design. My go to tools are Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator on my Mac, but I often enjoy traditional sketching and watercoloring when inspired. This inclination towards the visual arts, has had tremendous influence on my career. For instance, I am able to design user experiences for my mobile apps with interfaces that are appealing, yet simple to use. I spend considerable energy branding my apps and designing a feel with the educational user in mind. From the teaching standpoint, whenever I get a chance to use presentation slides to deliver a lecture, I pride myself on producing the most visually captivating presentations - many times drawing the graphical elements and schematics from scratch. As an example the ‘Get Prepared to Present Well’ video on YouTube.com was entirely drawn and animated using Apple’s PowerPoint point alternative, Keynote.(3) On the personal side, I have published a children’s picture book, for the iBooks store, called “It’s Snowing in Africa.” The book includes illustrations that were produced entirely using the iPad app Paper by 53.(10) With the advent of technology, I think educators have numerous tools at our disposal that are certain to make teaching and learning fun.

References:

Below are links to papers and videos related to the responses above

  1. Bakrania, S.D., “Integration of Journal Club Ideology into a Nanotechnology Course,” American Society of Engineering Education Conference, Louiseville, KY, June 20-23, 2010.
  2. Bakrania, S.D., “Getting Students Prepared to Present Well,” American Society of Engineering Education Conference, Vancouver, BC, Canada, June 26-29, 2011.
  3. YouTube Video, “Get Prepared to Present Well,” http://youtu.be/3OmOIzgPOqo.
  4. YouTube Video, “Wind Turbine Design I for Sophomore Engineering Clinics,” http://youtu.be/Xvo73TxW6_k
  5. YouTube Video, “Wind Turbine Design II for Sophomore Engineering Clinics,” http://youtu.be/UJn2_lLRLrg
  6. Bakrania, S.D., “Getting Students Involved in a Classroom with an iPhone App,” American Society of Engineering Education Conference, San Antonio, TX, June 10-13, 2012.
  7. YouTube Video, “Pikme,” http://youtu.be/Rtn3xWVLCt4
  8. Banger, S., and Bakrania, S.D., “A rubric-based grading app for the iPad,” American Society of Engineering Education Conference, Atlanta, GA, June 24-26, 2013. Selected as Best in Computers in Education papers.
  9. YouTube Video, “evaluA+,” http://youtu.be/8WP5ZMWWIv4
  10. iBooks Store Link, “It’s Snowing in Africa,” https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/its-snowing-in-africa/id556430425?mt=11

What directed you to a career as an engineering educator?

There are several instances when I was nudged towards a career in engineering education. However,there is one particular moment early on that stands out. At Union College, during my final undergraduate years, I was preparing to compete for the ASME regional speaking contest. When one of my favorite professors approached me and suggested, “Smitesh, you might want to consider teaching as a career. You have a knack for visually explaining things.” Suddenly everything fit. I realized being an educator will combine all that I cherish about engineering and draw from my strengths. Given that I was placed second in the following national speaking contest, certainly helped to convince me further. Subsequent, nudges came during my graduate days at University of Michigan TA-ing for my advisor’s Heat Transfer course.

What qualities do your students and colleagues most admire about
you as an educator?

From a personality standpoint, I would like to consider myself as someone who is very approachable. An attribute that probably stems from the fact that I believe everyone has something to offer. That said, if I were to list three things that I bring to Rowan’s community, they would include:

  1. My ability to combine technology and art for the benefit of learning.
  2. My ability to coalesce information and deliver a package with maximum impact.
  3. My ability to excite interest in students about things that I am passionate about.

It is equally important to note that being in an environment where these qualities are appreciated is rewarding. We have a department that is not shy of failing for trying something new and therefore is always ready to experiment. This attitude has strongly supported innovations that are taking place at Rowan.

Engineering is a notoriously rigorous field of study. What do you do to
encourage talented students to persist through graduation?

Being a premier undergraduate institution in south New Jersey, Rowan Engineering attracts a talented set of students who recognize what our program has to offer. Beyond this, our program offers a rigorous training for real-engineering through engineering clinics. Here students experience how engineering theory meets engineering practice. I strategically use my clinic projects to individually mentor students to provide a strong professional foundation. I am currently exploring platinum nanoparticles to support combustion at micrometer scales with the eventual application in portable power source device. This work is exclusively supported by undergraduate students who have little-to-no prior background in nanoparticle characterization or combustion, for that matter. This provides a great opportunity for me to motivate my students to take on a challenging task of independent exploration and problem solving. After the initial stages of being overwhelmed by the content, the students soon realize through appropriate management, persistent efforts to characterize the problem and good-old problem solving, any engineering challenge is tractable. The self-confidence and autonomy such projects encourage is paramount to becoming successful engineers. In addition, I am naturally excited about the things I work on. This serves as an
automatic buy-in for the students into the purpose of their efforts.

What are the most important engineering habits of mind you feel it is
your responsibility to pass on to your students? In general, how do
you mentor and guide students?

One of the greatest advantage for the field of engineering is that it is highly practical. Majority of the problems we face are not abstract but very much tangible. As a result, I encourage my students to think visually. To externalize their thought process using various tools available at our disposal. This includes, drawings, sketches, illustrations, and charts. For a senior elective I have developed a course that is fairly popular on many campuses these days, Introduction to Nanotechnology.(1) In addition to making the lectures exclusively visual with images from scientific literature, the students are forced to outline their projects using mind maps and deliver their presentations with minimal use of text without compromising the technical rigor. For my thermal-fluid science course, students submit visual examples of concepts being taught in lecture: examples of laminar versus turbulent flow over everyday objects for external flow, for instance. While there are many other engineering habits (some discussed in response to other questions), thinking visually can serve as very useful tool to engaging with the engineering problems.

How do you keep up with the changing demands of the employers of
your students?

Our students need to be resourceful and effective communicators to keep up with the changing demands of employers. As educators we recognize these two virtues intimately, but our students feel these are innate attributes of gifted individuals. It is our responsibility to address this misconception. I teach my courses by drawing content from conspicuously varied sources (scientific journals, news media reports, etc.) to help students appreciate evolving nature of knowledge and how to assess the quality of the content. I also enjoy providing a historical perspective on the engineering practices to help students contextualize their knowledge. These efforts are designed to make the process of learning transparent from students’ perspective, which in turn will promote independent learning. On the other hand, majority of my courses involve some aspect of technical communication (written or oral) to help students become better communicators - often involving slide-by-slide feedback on how to develop impactful presentations. Many of these aspects also apply to other professionals and as a result I have developed a short animation summarizing the key features of effective presentations for YouTube.com.(2,3)

Engineering faculty members are often described as being either good teachers or good researchers. What are the challenges of being good in both, and how do you manage those challenges? Where are your particular strengths in this regard?

In most cases, teaching and research are separate activities for an engineering faculty. At Rowan, our engineering clinics provide a robust platform for melding teaching with research. Engineering clinics span all four years of undergraduate curriculum where engineering students from all disciplines come together to solve practical hands-on problems.(4,5) Not only do I use engineering clinics to teach and conduct research, I use the research that I conduct to improve my teaching. Setting up an upward spiral of selfimprovement that helps me teach better and further pursue research. As an example, my technical research focusses on nanoparticles in combustion environments, while my educational research entails development of educational mobile apps. As a result of these projects, I have been able to publish my technical research in refereed journals and produce well-received apps. These experiences are crucial teaching moments for our students because they provide a glimpse into impact of their work; whether their work is used by thousands of teachers in the case of app development or contribute towards the scientific knowledge in the case of combustion research. Specifically, Pikme, an app that helps educators improve and track student participation in class has been highly popular.(6,7) The students keep the apps updated and are continuously adding new features that users demand. These real-world interactions are critical to prepare students for professional careers. At the same time, the development of Pikme was inspired by my need to connect with every student during my lectures and encourage my class to actively engage in their learning. In other words, my scholarly pursuit was inspired by my teaching which ultimately improved my instruction. Therefore, while there are challenges to managing both teaching and research interests, I have discovered a strong synergy that yields a win-win situation.

What resources does ASEE provide to help you do your job better?

ASEE provides a community of like-minded individuals who are passionate about teaching and who are engaged in a constant battle of self-improvement. Nowhere this is more evident than each year at the national conferences. Anyone who attends these conferences is surprised by the number and topical breadth of presentations. Even though some papers are making only incremental progress, the ability to directly engage with the educators and share ideas is invaluable. I always come away with new insights into what I do and energized to refine my efforts. At the last conference in Atlanta, GA, I was presenting my latest app evaluA+ that allows teachers to use the iPad as a rubric-based grading tool on the go - to completely digitizing assessment and feedback.(8,9) During a poster session following my talk I struck up a conversation with a fellow educator who I realized shared my interest for developing activities for engineers using mobile apps. We decided it was best to team up to collaborate on a future project. Attending these conferences over the summer also provides a timely moment for reflection and plan the year ahead. As a result, I have attended and presented at every national conference since I completed my Ph.D., and plan to continue in the future.

What is the best benefit of being an ASEE member?

As highlighted above, I can summarize here as two key benefits:

  1. Access to pedagogical research, resources and news. 
  2. A platform to connect with well experienced educators. 


How can ASEE better serve you (and the larger engineering education community)?

In addition, to the accompanying exhibitions at the conferences by educational vendors, I would like to see ASEE highlighting technological innovations and tools that are coming into the educational scene. Education is going through major changes as a result of new technologies and I encourage ASEE to be at the forefront of highlighting these tools and how they are being implemented. I would like to give piazza.com as an example. Piazza is a wonderful classroom discussion tool for instructors that I discovered while attending the exhibition at the national conference. Such tools need to reach more educators via avenues other than just at conferences.

What are a few things you enjoy outside of work - things that make you, you?

I am a technology geek. I love reading about it and exploring new ways of doing the same old things. Many of my educational app ideas are a result of this interest. Hence it makes for a great overlap between work and play. Secondly, I find great comfort and inspiration within visual arts and aesthetics. I enjoy illustrating and graphic design. My go to tools are Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator on my Mac, but I often enjoy traditional sketching and watercoloring when inspired. This inclination towards the visual arts, has had tremendous influence on my career. For instance, I am able to design user experiences for my mobile apps with interfaces that are appealing, yet simple to use. I spend considerable energy branding my apps and designing a feel with the educational user in mind. From the teaching standpoint, whenever I get a chance to use presentation slides to deliver a lecture, I pride myself on producing the most visually captivating presentations - many times drawing the graphical elements and schematics from scratch. As an example the ‘Get Prepared to Present Well’ video on YouTube.com was entirely drawn and animated using Apple’s PowerPoint point alternative, Keynote.(3) On the personal side, I have published a children’s picture book, for the iBooks store, called “It’s Snowing in Africa.” The book includes illustrations that were produced entirely using the iPad app Paper by 53.(10) With the advent of technology, I think educators have numerous tools at our disposal that are certain to make teaching and learning fun.

References:

Below are links to papers and videos related to the responses above

  1. Bakrania, S.D., “Integration of Journal Club Ideology into a Nanotechnology Course,” American Society of Engineering Education Conference, Louiseville, KY, June 20-23, 2010.
  2. Bakrania, S.D., “Getting Students Prepared to Present Well,” American Society of Engineering Education Conference, Vancouver, BC, Canada, June 26-29, 2011.
  3. YouTube Video, “Get Prepared to Present Well,” http://youtu.be/3OmOIzgPOqo.
  4. YouTube Video, “Wind Turbine Design I for Sophomore Engineering Clinics,” http://youtu.be/Xvo73TxW6_k
  5. YouTube Video, “Wind Turbine Design II for Sophomore Engineering Clinics,” http://youtu.be/UJn2_lLRLrg
  6. Bakrania, S.D., “Getting Students Involved in a Classroom with an iPhone App,” American Society of Engineering Education Conference, San Antonio, TX, June 10-13, 2012.
  7. YouTube Video, “Pikme,” http://youtu.be/Rtn3xWVLCt4
  8. Banger, S., and Bakrania, S.D., “A rubric-based grading app for the iPad,” American Society of Engineering Education Conference, Atlanta, GA, June 24-26, 2013. Selected as Best in Computers in Education papers.
  9. YouTube Video, “evaluA+,” http://youtu.be/8WP5ZMWWIv4
  10. iBooks Store Link, “It’s Snowing in Africa,” https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/its-snowing-in-africa/id556430425?mt=11