School of Engineering and Applied Science SEAS Dean's Update

Dean Sina Rabbany: Preparing Students with Knowledge and Ingenuity

Sina Rabbany at the SEAS alumni reception, fall 2015.
Sina Rabbany at the SEAS alumni reception, fall 2015.

As educators, we are constantly grappling with how to integrate our curricula to enable our students to graduate with an intellectual outlook that will prepare them for becoming active participants in solving technical challenges facing society. That means that we must not just teach formulas and techniques for solving textbook problems, although understanding standard mathematics and physics is still important to scientists and engineers. After all, the professional licensing exam still requires candidates to be able to solve such problems if they are to earn the title of Professional Engineer. But what is also needed in the curricular mix, even from the earliest exposure to coursework, is a nurturing of creativity and of willingness to innovate. Technological progress is achieved very often when people look at a topic or a problem in a slightly different way than it was posed in the past. Sometimes a breakthrough then follows, and a whole new type of industry appears that carries on for a generation or longer, until a new breakthrough emerges. Within that new technology, incremental progress is also achieved through less tectonic, but still consequential, shifts in ways of solving problems.

We like to think that the first year sequence of courses offered in the Department of Engineering, Engg 015: Engineering the Human Made World and Engg 016: Comprehensive Engineering Design, lays the groundwork well for orienting students to be able to identify problems, begin to analyze possible solutions, work as part of a team, and be fully conscious of the societal consequences of their solutions. Of course, at that level of collegiate technical training, the kinds of problems they can solve are less sophisticated than what a senior level student would tackle.  Nevertheless, the mindset has been established, and the student will progress throughout the subsequent curriculum leading to the capstone design experience fully cognizant of the array of skills, both technical and non-technical, needed to accomplish that task successfully.

This year our Senior Design Day is being held on December 14th, just before Final Exam Week, and all the capstone design projects on which upper level students have been diligently working throughout the past several months will be presented to our audience of faculty, outside professionals, and students. We strongly encourage our students in the first, second and third years of our programs to attend these talks, because they do indeed represent the culmination of four years of work, integrated into a comprehensive project. That project demands of them their analytical skills, because mathematical and computational modeling is the basis of all design in industry. It demands persistence, teamwork, adherence to deadlines, and a raft of other interpersonal skills that come to the fore when pressure builds to accomplish a task successfully by a rigid due date.

We hope then that, in part because of this experience, our graduating students will make the transition to the full-time working world relatively smoothly, and that they will therefore look back on their years here in the DeMatteis School as truly formative, and recognize that we as educators helped instill in them some attributes that will serve them well throughout their professional careers.

Best wishes to all our students preparing their presentations right now, and to those preparing to graduate in December.  We are proud of your hard work.

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