Experiences

Immersion, Reflection, and Tinkering

Are you interested in providing unique experiences for your students? Read on for a curated set of cards that explore immersion, reflection, and tinkering, both inside and outside the classroom.

Experiences

by Mike Rust, Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Western New England University

The students file out of the hospital into the warm, humid air. It's hot out here in the sunshine, hotter than it was in the hospital, but the breeze helps a bit.  

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I do a quick check of the student’s faces again, looking for signs, seeing how they’re doing.

Becca is squinting, probably due to the sudden change in light levels. 

A few, like Joe, are writing notes in their journals. 

Allie is staring off into the mid-distance. . .thinking. 

We’ve been in Guatemala for about 48 hours, so culture shock is in full swing. On top of that, our team of a dozen students (and two faculty) have just wrapped up our first visit to a rural healthcare facility in an impoverished area of the country. 

So it’s really culture shock on top of culture shock. 

“How are you doing?” I ask Allie.

“I’m okay,” she says. “It's just. . .” Her voice trails off. Thinking. Processing. 

“It's just - and this is going to sound strange, Dr. Rust - but. . .I didn’t believe you.” 

And with that, Allie has just summed up one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in my 10+ years as an educator: 

It is all about the experience.

We can have class after class, lecture after lecture, assignment after assignment about pain points. I can talk with students all semester long about the various challenges facing the global health community. About under-resourced hospitals that are working with limited supplies and medicine. About inequity and social justice, and the systems that perpetuate bias. 

But until they experience it themselves, see an overcrowded hospital, with patients sitting on the floor, and broken equipment piled up in the hallways. . .it doesn’t really sink in.

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Experiences matter. Experiences can connect engineering knowledge with the real need for that knowledge to be applied. Experiences can fuel the development of a mindset focused on improvement and progress

Over the past decade, I’ve been fortunate to take over 100 students like Allie to Central America as part of the Global Health & Technology course I teach at Western New England University. 


It is easily the most rewarding experience I’ve had as an educator, and one that I feel truly lucky to have been a part of.

Of course, not every student is going to be able to complete a field experience in a developing country. That’s just not practical on a variety of levels. But there are a variety of experiences that we can cultivate for our students, both inside and outside the classroom, that can provide similar value. 

All of which leads me to a question that I think about. A lot. How can we as faculty members help students work on problems that are not just interesting, but important? 

In my opinion, it is about experiences that matter. Experiences that have the potential to be transformative. These kinds of experiences can fuel the development of a mindset focused on improvement and progress.

Try These Activities & Projects

Are you interested in providing unique experiences for your students? Below you’ll find a set of cards that use approaches such as immersion, reflection, and tinkering to give students unique experiences. Feel free to use these ideas directly, or put your own spin on them to fit your own teaching assignments.

It Takes a Village

Solving Community Challenges and Advancing EML: It Takes a Village

This card describes a community-based immersion program at the University of Dayton. This program allows students to demonstrate the entrepreneurial mindset as they work on community-defined challenges, and has been implemented in both full immersion (in-person) as well as virtual (remote) formats.
The Civic Engagement Experience

The Civic Engagement Experience

David Howell (MSOE) describes an assignment that involves a civic engagement experience as well as a structured reflection. Example projects included redesign of infrastructure to reduce impact on birds, beach restoration projects, neighborhood clean-ups, and more.
Innovating using Consumer Insights

Innovating Using Consumer Insights

This card describes a module in which students explore design solutions for local organizations on (or around) the University of Denver campus. Employing immersive ethnographic research techniques, the student teams aim to uncover insights in an open-ended format, ultimately leading to the development of innovative solutions.
Tinkering and Making as a Means to Engage Students Across a 1st Year Introduction to Mechanical Engineering

Tinkering and Making as a Means to Engage Students Across a 1st Year Introduction to Mechanical Engineering

Micah Lande (South Dakota School of Mines) uses tinkering in an introductory mechanical engineering course to engage students in EM. The ultimate goal is to make the content fun and worthwhile for students while they develop making skills, and apply them in an interactive and reflective way.

About the Author

Mike Rust

Mike Rust, Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Western New England University

Mike looks to address complex challenges facing our world today and in the future. Things like global health and lab-on-a-chip get him REALLY excited! He gets to help train and work alongside the next generation of problem solvers as they embark on their emerging careers.

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