Mel ('07) is an extremely fun person to talk to - her voice, her hands, her entire posture is expressive, and her passion for what she is talking about is evident in her every word. I had to smile when she said, "I have a talent for making engineers really excited about volunteering for engineering projects," because I am absolutely sure that is true. In fact, I think Mel has a talent for making people excited about life - I know I was after talking to her!
Mel is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in engineering education at Purdue University. While most engineering graduate schools prepare students for engineering research, Mel's interests have taken her down the path of pedagogy in relation to engineering education - studying how people think, learn, and apply to engineering schools. Essentially, she is learning the best ways to impart her passion upon the next generation of engineers.
More specifically, Mel is researching how people are able to learn through open source communities. As Mel explains, there is a different kind of learning experience that happens within these communities, one along the lines of, "We make stuff... [and] incidentally, learning happens." While working full time for Red Hat, known as "the world's open source leader," Mel realized that professors are excited about getting their students and classes involved, but they lack the intuition to figure out how to achieve that goal. Mel is interested in finding the answers to the big questions surrounding education, specifically engineering education.
Surrounded by graduate students and professors interested in engineering education at Purdue, Mel has the rare experience of being around people who know that Olin is unique; nearly everyone there has heard about it, and they are eager to learn more about what makes Olin so innovative. As she listens to her peers, Mel realizes that "Olin skews our view" of what is normal in context of receiving an engineering education. For example, the consensus for those outside of Olin is that hands-on projects during the first year are impossible. Mel was outraged by this opinion - at Olin, we jump into projects from day one, and it works!
It is impressive that Mel has skipped getting a Master's degree to leap straight into getting a Ph.D. Mel explains, "Olin is similar to a Ph.D. in a lot of ways [because it is] super self-selected," and her level of maturity and ability to succeed was evident to those at Purdue who accepted her into their program. Through her Olin education, Mel not only gained a different perspective on engineering education, but also learned to overcome her shyness to become bolder about pursuing her interests and goals. Without a doubt, Mel will continue to contribute to the future of engineering education, one passionate conversation at a time.