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Theory Meets Practice

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An Integrative Approach

Whether full- or part-time, each of the professors is fully integrated into the engineering program; a concept which Abriola feels is unique to Tufts.

"They are advising students, they're teaching and in some cases on committees and participating in research," Abriola says. "They're helping to develop courses that will help our students learn how to apply what they're learning to the real world, and they're bringing problems from industry into the campus so that professors can engage and collaborate with them."

"[Professors of the practice] are helping to develop courses that will help our students learn how to apply what they're learning to the real world, and they're bringing problems from industry into the campus so that professors can engage and collaborate with them."

— School of Engineering Dean Linda Abriola

Each of the professors has a unique style for bringing real world experience into their classrooms. Hines, for instance, bases many of his assignments around building projects he is currently working on in Boston, while Hannon models all of his assignments after industry proposal requests.

"I've had some great feedback over the years from students who have said that after taking my course they got a summer job somewhere at an engineering firm, and when the requests for proposals came out for something or other, they knew exactly what to do, because they'd seen it, they'd actually lived it in the course," says Hannon.

"When I put a mathematical equation up on the chalk board, I can give a real example of using that equation somewhere from my experience to design a real product," Lasser says. "For example, suppose that we're talking about image processing. I can give them an example of how, by doing a certain operation, you cause a sharp image to become blurred or you take a blurred image and you can make it sharper. I show them, here's the mathematics that does this, and here's the real piece—the real example that somebody out in industry has made to work, has a product out of, and they're selling as Photoshop. If you cannot make it work, it doesn't matter."

Professors of the Practice

Dan Hannon in class.

For students like Dante DeMeo this approach has proved to be valuable not only in the world of engineering, but in other aspects of life as well.

"[While] geared towards engineers, the lessons learned in [Lasser's senior design class] go far beyond the engineering discipline, from professional ethics, to project planning and management, to self evaluation and learning, risk management, negotiating, interviewing; the list goes on," says the electrical engineering graduate student. "It applies all the prior [technical] classes to the real world through project-based design while simultaneously teaching the students how the world actually works."

"Engineering is about creating things, so it is important to have professors who are actively designing things in the field," says Hannah Robinson, a student of Hines' and a senior majoring in civil engineering. "In true design, there is no right answer; professors of practice bring their real life experience and knowledge of what assumptions and approximations are necessary or acceptable to make."

Professors of the Practice

A student peers up at the structure of a building while on a site visit with Eric Hines.

"It puts the technical textbook information into context and perspective," adds Eliza Walters, a sophomore majoring in engineering psychology who studies with Hannon.

Students, however, are not the only ones to benefit from this experience.

"My research and teaching makes me a better designer, my design experience makes me a better researcher, and it certainly makes me a better teacher," Hines says. "So, in the end, to be professionally engaged, by definition, means that I'm designing, researching and teaching."

"I've had mentors that have pushed me along as a breeze pushed along a sailboat, and now I'm in the position to do the same," Lasser says. "And the most important interactions don't necessarily happen in the classroom, but in my office, or in the lab, or in the hallway, where they ask me about real questions about real engineers and how they solve real problems."

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Profile written by Kaitlin Melanson, Office of Web Communications

Photos by Joanie Tobin, University Photography

This story originally ran on Mar. 16, 2009.