Loading

The
K12
Engineering Education Podcast

« Previous · Next »

Engineers' Favorite Teachers

Latest Episode

Engineers' Favorite Teachers

Season 2 · Episode 11

Previous Episodes

Episode cover art

Active Learning in Computer Science

Season 2 · Episode 10
Episode cover art

Teaching Ethics

Season 2 · Episode 9

You Might Also Like...

Description

What makes a good teacher for future engineers? In honor of National Teacher Appreciation Week, we ask five practicing engineers about their favorite teachers growing up. The engineers come from different disciplines, and they all share the best qualities of the teachers who made an impact on them.

Our closing music is from "When You Go" by Steve Combs, used under a Creative Commons Attribution License.

Check out the book and ebook Engineer’s Guide to Improv and Art Games by Pius Wong, on Amazon, Kindle, Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble Nook, and other retailers.

Subscribe and find more podcast information at k12engineering.net. Support Pios Labs with regular donations on Patreon, or send one-time contributions by buying us coffee. Thanks to our donors and listeners for making the show possible. The K12 Engineering Education Podcast is a production of Pios Labs.

Transcript

Pius Wong 

Hey, it's Pius. Thanks for listening. And especially thank you to my individual supporters on Patreon who absolutely make it possible for me to do this engineering education hoopla that I like to do. If you like it, too, please head over to patreon.com/pioslabs, and pledge $1 or something to let me know. Thanks.

 

Pius Wong 

It's May 8th, 2017, the start of National Teacher Appreciation Week in the USA, and this is The K-12 Engineering Education Podcast.

 

Pius Wong 

Teachers don't always get thanks from their students. They don't always get feedback on how their kids are turning out. And if they do, it might be years or decades later. For those of you teaching possible future engineers, well, consider this episode of bit of an early thank you. I'm your host, Pius Wong. Five engineers working in different technical fields all told me about their favorite teachers growing up and what made them so great. I wanted to share a little of what they said.

 

Beau Trifiro 

My name is Beau Trifiro, and I am a mechanical engineer.

 

Deivya 

So my name is Deivya, and I am a bioengineer working as a systems engineer in healthcare products in Seattle.

 

Linus 

Hey, I'm Linus, and I'm a software engineer.

 

Mike 

My name's Mike. I build computers at IBM.

 

Pius Wong 

But we'll actually start with Marcela, computer scientist.

 

Marcela 

In high school I had a teacher. His name was Mr. Medina, and he was the computer science teacher. And prior to meeting him, I was really into -- I played clarinet. And so I was really into music. And I thought I was going to go into music and become a music teacher. But when I met him in 11th grade, he had already known my uncle, apparently. They had been roommates in college. It was a strange coincidence, but he recognized my last name, and he was like, oh, you know, you're this person. Come join my computer science class. And I was like, okay. I joined his class. And he was very -- he was always trying to get a lot of young women, especially young women, into computer science.

 

Pius Wong 

That was like a thing he specifically had done.

 

Marcela 

Yeah. Yeah, he wanted to always make sure his computer science classes had, you know, young women and young men. Turned out I was kind of just naturally good at it, naturally good at computer science because of my math background. So then he encouraged me to, you know, start competing with computer science and UIL.

 

Pius Wong 

What's UIL?

 

Marcela 

I forgot what it stands for. But it's like this extracurricular you do on weekends, where you can go compete in any subject, really, like computer science. Yeah, he just really encouraged me to do that. And I just kept actually enjoying it. And I had never really been exposed to that type of -- that form of math, I guess, because in a way it is mathematics. I ended up getting a degree in computer science. And I was hired right out of college as a developer.

 

Pius Wong 

When was that again, in high school?

 

Marcela 

It was pretty late. It was already my junior and maybe senior year.

 

Pius Wong 

Oh, wow.

 

Marcela 

It was late for me. I was set on being a music teacher.

 

Pius Wong 

That's interesting, because you were probably already looking at college and all that stuff.

 

Marcela 

Yeah.

 

Pius Wong 

So he changed your path.

 

Marcela 

He showed -- he opened that, I guess, that realm up to me, and I really went with it. So I really -- I look back and I think it was Mr. Medina who pushed me in the direction of wanting to study computer science and go that route. What was, like, the awesome thing about him was how he just cared so much about, you know, especially, Hispanics and Mexicans and Latinas doing well in STEM. And so it was almost like a daily thing we talked about. It was always brought up that it's very important we go to college, and it's very important we study these things, you know, and that was the more inspiring part.

 

Pius Wong 

So that message works. Having that conversation.

 

Marcela 

It does. Yeah.

 

Marcela 

Oh, yeah, I had stayed in contact with them for a long time after. He had usually asked me, when I started working, to go back to the old high school, and I would give talks to the kids there about pursuing STEM education. And I did that for several years until I moved to Austin. And we kind of lost contact then. But I just hope he's doing well and continuing to -- I'm sure he's retired by now. I mean, he was already an older man, even when I was there. So I miss him, and I hope he's doing well.

 

Beau Trifiro 

It's it's hard to talk about this one teacher because I've had so many positive influences as far as teachers go, but the one that really sticks in my mind is actually, senior year of college, I had a mechatronics -- I took a mechatronics elective with Dr. Rana. The reason I thought he was such a great teacher is because he didn't tell us everything we had to do. Everything was very open-ended. It was a project-based class. And it was -- here's a, you know, here's an Arduino, like, some wheels, a little chassis, and some other electronics boards. Go make this work on wifi or over ethernet. That was the assignment. And that's it. Like, you come to me with questions. But you can't say like, oh, how do you do this?

 

Pius Wong 

Wow. And how did that go?

 

Beau Trifiro 

The project actually went really -- like, I learned so much, because I had no idea -- The reason I took the class was because it was kind of something that I really had no idea how software, electronics -- I had an idea, but it wasn't a strength, software and electronics. My focus in school was actually, like, thermal fluid systems. And this just totally changed my perspective on robotics and software. And all that. And that particular project actually went pretty well. I actually didn't get the wifi to work. We got it working over ethernet, which was like the main thing. We had some issues with the router. We just ran out of time at the end. If we had more time, we could finish it, but just the amount I learned in that class and the kind of, like, the meta skills I learned in that class -- like how to learn and approach software and robotics and -- just other more general projects like that was just priceless. Thank you. I hope you're doing well. It was an amazing class, and I hope he's -- I hope you're still teaching.

 

Linus 

Well, I've had a bunch of great teachers in my life, especially in high school. But I'd say one of the more memorable ones -- earliest memorable ones would be Elizabeth Joynt, my seventh grade teacher. She was probably the most influential in getting me excited about math and science at a younger age. I mean, I was always good at it. But it was more from a lazy perspective. Like, I can get my A's and so on, and then sit back and coast. But she actually challenged me in ways that I hadn't ever been challenged prior to that. So during one math lesson, she realized I kind of already knew all the concepts and then pulled me aside and asked me if I wanted to work on some more advanced topics. But me in my kind of lazy coasting attitude said, oh, no, I'll just relax and enjoy the lesson with the rest of the class, to which she said fine, and then paired me up with one of my friends who happen to also be the one of the lower performing guys in the class. It got me to understand that, hey, there's more to life than just memorizing facts and, and, and like coasting. I was able to realize that, actually, there are other challenges that, you know, may not be super easy to me, like dealing with other people who don't get the concept immediately. And in fact, the process of helping out my friend also helps reinforce the concepts in my own head. And of course, I realized, hey, actually, I missed the great opportunity to learn more cool things at my own pace. The way she approached teaching math and science, in general, was much more enthusiastic and engaging. Like even incorporating math concepts in the art class that she taught for us was really cool. Thanks a lot, Mrs. Joynt, wherever you are. I had a blast in your class. And I think you did all of us a great service, whether you realize it or not.

 

Mike 

So I'm actually a computer engineer by degree, but a lot of the stuff I do is on the software side of the house. So in high school, I went to a place called Memphis University School. And this this one guy, Mr. Brown was our computer science guy. And I still remember the day that I transferred into that -- kind of sitting down in the computer science lab and not knowing anything about what they were doing, but knowing roughly what the problem was, and kind of seeing him explain it, and kind of realized, you know, this is kind of cool. You know, some number of years later, I'm still doing that today. Well, it was kind of interesting, right? So when we'd go through classes, it was kind of neat to be able to sit down and kind of work through something and figure it out and actually implement it for real by yourself. There were times when you know, I'd be really, really, really close to whatever it was. And he just give a little tiny bump or a nudge toward you in the right direction. And it was always kind of the right thing. And I always kind of felt like that little extra insight about five minutes later, was what I needed to, say, get past whatever it was I was doing. And like, if I think about that, that's the kind of stuff that was really, really, really cool. And I'm sure he knew exactly what to say exactly when. And I liked that.

 

Pius Wong 

Was he just really experienced? How did he know what the right amount of push was?

 

Mike 

Yeah, that's really difficult. Like, that's one of the things I struggle with. Because, like, for me, I've been -- I work at IBM, and I've been working here for maybe 11 years, and I'm at this point where I still do hardcore, you know -- I still work in the lab, I still go pull stuff, and you know, build machines and stuff. But I also have to go do things with talking with people and trying to explain things to people. So I think for him,  I think a lot of it was his experience to me. He was a programmer, before he became a teacher. He helped build up the computer lab in the school. So he still kind of stayed hands-on with it. And, you know, he stayed in contact with industry, which I thought was really cool. So we probably once a year would have to someone come in and do a talk. And it'd be someone from Microsoft or some other big-name company. But I mean, he was very much to-the-point when explaining something, but he always had kind of a certain logic and rigor behind it. And I appreciated that. A good example: I argued with him on my first test, because I defined something different from how he defined it. And, you know, I thought my thing was right, he thought his thing was right, and we got to talk about it like that. One of my top things right now is to try to give back to the community. And, you know, through the stuff I do at work and outside of work, kind of bring the next generation forward. So you keep trying.

 

Deivya 

A systems engineer, as a role in industry -- what we do is, we take a look at the entire product that we are trying to develop. And we have to take a look at the entire system. And we have to understand how all the pieces fit together. We have to ensure that the product is safe, and it won't harm anybody. We want to make sure that at the end of the day, the product that we're putting into the market for people to use, be it whatever kind of product -- it can be a defibrillator, it can be a toothbrush, it can be anything like that -- it actually does what it's supposed to do. And it satisfies the needs of the people who are asking for such a product in the market in the first place. Actually, one of my favorite science teachers was in junior high. Unfortunately, I can't remember his name. I remember what his face looked like. He was super cool. He had like a mullet haircut, which was kind of awesome.

 

Pius Wong 

Okay, you can identify him by his mullet, all right.

 

Deivya 

Yes. But no, he was really great. And, you know, we're going through physics and everything. And ironically, as an engineer, I hated physics. And I still kind of do on some level. It was never one of my favorite subjects. But like, what I remember about this teacher is that he made a concerted effort to have things be interactive. So for example, you know, when you were in like a basic physics class, you learn that you can actually walk on a pile of broken glass without cutting yourself, and like, as a kid, you think about that and go, why in the world, would you do something silly like that? Like, what? And so one day, we showed up to class, and I kid you not, there was a pile of broken glass, sitting on the floor, and he was like, today, you are going to walk on this glass and prove to yourself that you can walk on broken glass. It was like the coolest thing ever. And so then he's explaining the physics to us. And I'm like, this is awesome. This is what it should be like. It helped me engage more in the subject where I wasn't, you know, too engaged, generally speaking,

 

Pius Wong 

Did he make you walk on broken glass?

 

Deivya 

He suggested it, yeah. And we did.  We were talking about electricity and static and stuff. And so you know those cool balls where you put your hands, and there's like a little static ball that, you know, it follows you and whatnot. We did some of those kinds of things. So like, there was just a lot of engagement with the students to help them understand the physics behind some of the cool things that are out there. I had and still do have a deep interest in astronomy. And he picked up on that. And he helped foster that. He gave me like source material to read, things to explore, and just really encouraged me to continue that pursuit of that interest. And I thought that looking back that was really important. I mean, if if he hadn't, you know, kind of instilled that, I wouldn't have gotten the opportunity to intern for NASA for six months, potentially, right, back in grad school.

 

Pius Wong 

So that connected -- like, your internship as an adult connected all the way back to that astronomy experience back then.

 

Deivya 

You know, sometimes you just have these hobbies, and you don't always take a look at -- you don't always pursue them, right. If they're not encouraged enough, they're not always -- they don't always result in something. Now, granted, what I did for NASA at that time is completely different than what pure astronomy is. I was working in a completely different sector, but still, like, there was encouragement that, hey, keep pursuing this, you know. There's nothing wrong with it. It's part of an overall package, not just one single thing. But it's definitely something that I look back, and I'm like, that man gave me my first copy of Discover, and it was an astronomy issue. And I think I kept it for years, I kid you not. I kept that magazine copy for years. It was so outdated. But it was like a piece of something like encouragement that, you know -- go explore.

 

Pius Wong 

If you could say anything to the teacher with the mullet, what would you tell them right now?

 

Deivya 

Thank you, honestly, thank you for engaging with us and for challenging us and forcing us to learn things and for basically being a lot cooler looking back now than you were back then. You know, we don't -- we as students, when you're especially at that age, we don't recognize always, like, teachers have the best intentions, and they're really looking out for you. And then it's not until like we're older, and we're kind of on the life path that we're on. And we can look back and we're like, wow, these are the teachers who we remember. So thank you for being a teacher that I remember even though I don't remember your name.

 

Pius Wong 

We have teachers here who encouraged, challenged, inspired, called out BS, and truly cared. There are so many more teachers out there doing that today, educating engineers, inventors, designers and problem-solvers of the future. Hats off to all of you. Thank you to engineers Beau, Deivya, Linus, Marcela, and Mike for sharing.

 

Pius Wong 

Follow the show on Twitter @K12engineering, and you can find me on Twitter: @PiusWong. Subscribe to and share the show however you get and share your podcasts, and please write a review that will help others find the show. All the details are at www.k12engineering.net. Our closing music today is from "When You Go" by Steve Combs under a Creative Commons Attribution license. The K12 Engineering Education Podcast is a production of Pios Labs, and you can support Pios Labs at www.patreon.com/pioslabs.

 

Pius Wong 

Howdy. It's the post show notes with Pius. This set of notes is inspired by Germany. Recently, someone from a German library sent me an email asking, hey Pius, how do I find a copy of your book "Engineer's Guide to Improv and Art Games". And I was not expecting an email from Germany. But I told them, you can go to the German version of Amazon. That's Amazon.de -- go Deutshland -- and they could get a print and ebook copy. And so today, in Germany somewhere, you can hold a physical copy of my book and learn all about applying the creativity of improv to your engineering design processes. That's pretty awesome. It got me thinking that if you, listening right now -- if you want a copy or want to look at my book for free, just get it from your library. That's so awesome. And because the book is new, it's probably not in a lot of libraries. I looked into it. I found out that through my own work, the Austin Public Library here in Texas is going to get a copy. And the University of Texas at Austin library is looking at it and the University of Illinois at Chicago library is looking at getting a copy. So if you're at any of those places, then check it out. And you can check out my ideas without paying anything. And if you want to do me a favor, go to your local library or your school library and request the copy of the "Engineer's Guide to Improv and Art Games" by yours truly, Pius Wong. And then you can also read these ideas for free. I'm especially looking at all of you residing in those communities with huge improv communities and huge engineering communities, places like LA and New York and Chicago. In Texas, that'd be San Antonio and Houston, and I know that Atlanta has a great improv scene as well as Georgia Tech. So all of you places that have those design and improv communities, please check out my book, and maybe your local library will have it soon if you request it. Thanks.