January 17, 2024
Leah Mendelson, Harvey Mudd College, and Brian Krongold, the University of Melbourne, explored engineering education at Olin last semester.
While Olin College is home to a strong network of faculty members with a range of backgrounds and interests, we also welcome faculty from all over to visit our dynamic community for sabbatical experiences. Whether for scholarly research or pedagogical inquiry, these mutually beneficial relationships enrich the work of those here on our campus as well as those who make Olin their temporary home.
Leah Mendelson: Holistic Mechanical Engineering Curricula
One such faculty member is Leah Mendelson ’11, who is a fluid mechanics researcher and associate professor in the Department of Engineering at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, CA.
“At Harvey Mudd, I’m involved in project-based design courses and work closely with their machine shop and makerspace,” says Mendelson, whose hands-on research also includes studying how fish use their fins to jump out of the water and applying those mechanics in systems like underwater vehicles. “As part of that, I created a new upper-level mechanical engineering design course that’s not quite a capstone, but it helps students incorporate what they already know about the design process and engineering mechanics and analysis to build and test different mechanical systems.”
Alongside co-teacher Chris Lee, associate dean and professor of mechanical engineering, Mendelson brought this course to Olin for the fall semester, leading students to create everything from a Stirling engine to an orrery, or a geared model of the solar system.
“I chose Olin for my sabbatical because I wanted to look beyond what this class has already done at Mudd or Olin and think about how we can adapt mechanical engineering courses to show students how the material relates to their understanding of the design process even earlier in their education,” says Mendelson. “I want to answer some research-centered questions about a class that doesn’t work just at your home institution, but across educational contexts and curricula.”
Brian Krongold: Project-Based Learning in Australia
A second faculty member who joined Olin for the fall semester is Brian Krongold, who is a professor in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Melbourne in Australia.
“I first learned about Olin maybe 10 years ago from other folks on the engineering faculty who had heard about the project-based learning approach,” says Krongold. “In 2019, we started fixing up our first-year experience courses and, among other schools, I was able to visit Olin very briefly in the spring to learn more about the curriculum. However, I became interested in coming back to experience Olin’s ‘Principles of Integrated Engineering’ (PIE) course that was only offered in the fall.”
After COVID put a hold on Krongold’s plans, he was finally able to undertake his sabbatical this past semester, splitting his time between Olin and Northeastern University’s College of Engineering. At Olin, Krongold co-taught PIE with Bradley A. Minch, professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Kenechukwu Mbanisi, assistant professor of robotics engineering.
“My goal here is to see how students adjust to project-based learning and how receptive they are to certain teaching and learning aspects,” says Krongold. “I want to learn about how Olin goes about laying the foundation for rules of engagement in a class that leads PIE students to be so excited about their project work.”
Krongold also spent time getting more hands-on experience with mechanical tools, such as 3D printers and motors, to gather ideas for how to diversify project opportunities for engineering students at the University of Melbourne.
“Olin students are using their project-based learning to gain exposure to other disciplines, to become global citizens of the world, and to foster their entrepreneurial spirit,” says Krongold. “I want to be able to bring some functional knowledge on how we can help map our courses to those skills at my home institution.”