February 19, 2013
Teaching and mentoring freshmen, helping them learn about life at Illinois, and sharing their engineering experiences are all part of a new program, funded in part by Shell, in which Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering students are participating.
New this year is the Illinois Engineering First-Year Experience, part of the Engineering 100, a required course for all freshmen which introduces students to the engineering profession including the variety of potential careers available. To help guide these freshmen, ChBE seniors and juniors are giving back by becoming Engineering Learning Assistants (ELAs).
Senior Jonathan Weisman, who is an ELA for the course, says he received great support as a freshman and wanted to mentor others. “My ELA as a freshman was a huge inspiration to me,” he said. “He motivated me to get involved on campus, be passionate about chemical engineering, and how to love the University of Illinois.”
Weisman said he believes the program is helpful to students because engineering is a collaborative field. “From the beginning freshman learn how to network, form study groups, and work together,” he says. “They learn the basics of how to get involved at the U of I and how to be successful. I motivate them to set goals for their engineering career at U of I and beyond, and I act as a role model.”
Throughout the four-week course, students become familiar with the campus and the ChBE department, says ChBE Lecturer Troy Vogel.
Students learn leadership skills and gain professional practice during the course which includes a design project where students solved open-ended engineering problems, met faculty during a poster presentation, and enhanced group learning skills.
“The design project is to allow them to begin thinking like a chemical engineer,” Vogel said. “Those professional skills learned during the design project are very important, so we start off putting the students in situations where they can develop these skills.” As part of the class the students presented their design projects during fall 2012.
Students may continue with the peer mentoring program which matches first-year students with engineering learning assistants to help transition them to Engineering at Illinois. As assistants the students teach, grade homework, and meet with students once a month to help them transition during their first semester.
Alia Khan, a ChBE senior and the lead ELA for the course, says she was drawn to the program because she likes teaching. “ENG 100 was a way I could be a mentor, teach, and connect with students in the department,” she said.
Senior Theodore Papadopoulos said his experience from Engineering 100 as a freshman made such an impact on him that he decided to become an assistant. “I introduce students to the resources and opportunities of the College of Engineering, educate them on the expectations of engineering, and help them build a network of friends and faculty to provide support and guidance,” he said. “I am more than just a mentor to the students; I am a friend and a fellow student.”
Khan agrees saying she believes the course is helpful because it provides tips and information to first-year students that may not be taught in other courses. “It is a great way to network with other students,” she said. “The first month of freshmen year is a crucial time, so having a class where you can meet people and learn about your major is important.”
Papadopoulos said he hopes students can make a smoother transition from high school to college life through the program.
“College culture shock affected nearly all of us at one point,” he says. “This course is designed to inform students on how to cope with everyday stresses, both academic and social. As an upperclassman, I see it is imperative to assist younger students in adjusting to life as an engineer at one of the nation’s best engineering universities.”