I began my PhD studies after thirteen years of professional experience in construction management where I specialized in commercial private sector construction projects. I spent a great deal of my time interacting with different audiences while managing construction projects, which enabled my ability to communicate the same information in many different ways.
My transition into the academic community was difficult at first, I was used to working in industry at a fast pace where decisions were often made quickly based on instinct and experience rather than stating a hypothesis, researching facts to support those statements, and presenting my work to the “peer review”. In the time that I’ve spent at Drexel University pursing my education, I feel that my research has grown from conference papers to journal submissions, yet I’ve never lost focus of the role that industry and real world tactics play in that work. I partnered with a local contractor and was able to successfully obtain data that is normally private and publish that work in a scholarly journal.
Teaching and managing has always been second nature for me. I’m always so eager to learn and share what I have learned with others. My time in graduate school has given me the opportunity to teach in the classroom and lab. I interacted with many types of students and with the success I’ve had, I know that becoming a professor is the next natural progression for me. When I see a student on campus and they say hello or tell me how they are doing, I know I’ve made a positive impact on their academic endeavors.
Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. ~Maimonides
I have a lot of fishermen in my family in Hawaii, and I think they are all natural teachers! As a person with three siblings from a big family, I know a lot about teamwork, sharing, and teaching. I bring this approach to the classroom and to my life.
My main belief in teaching is to create a palatable setting where the students and instructor connect and create an open forum for learning and discussion. In the classroom, I try to keep a light atmosphere where students can be creative and learn synergistically. I accomplish this “light atmosphere” by making sure that the material that I’m teaching is simplified and not complicated for the sake of “sounding intelligent”. I had some of my own experiences where instructors were so complicated in how they were conveying the material, which I wasn’t able to learn in the classroom and had to engage the help of others and tutoring to be able to pass. I always think about how difficult thermodynamics was in the classroom, but when I was in the field working with fans and pumps and airflow, I started to understand the theory in a real example.
One of my goals is to build excitement and interest in the topic and coursework that I am presenting to the students. Building an engaging environment maintains interest level and student retention in the classroom. I achieve this by smiling when I teach, and knowing all I can about the topic, so that students know I found it interesting enough to think about and learn. In my research on recycling building materials, I’m so passionate, that I make sure it’s incorporated in my academic and home life. In my office here at Drexel University, I researched the recycling program and made sure we had the appropriate bins for all of the various materials that we could recycle. This is a small example of keeping things sustainable in the classroom and enabling students to do their part too. Another way to keep a light atmosphere is through humor. I think that learning is already hard work, and I was taught by a mentor in the construction industry to work hard and have fun. I think this Gary Larson comic above describes my approach and explains who I am as an individual, in that I don’t take myself too seriously, only when necessary!
Also, in the classroom setting, there is an opportunity for the student to learn from the instructor, as well as, an instructor learning from the students. It is important to listen to what the students have to say and talking through different ideas with their peers as well as myself. This exchange of knowledge and experiences based on my successful management strategies in the field creates a relationship in the classroom of trust and mutual respect.
It is important to remain approachable, and always spend a little time before and after class entertaining student questions, or keeping office hours for a more personal experience if the classroom is not enough. If I see someone was struggling with their lab reports, I would write them an email and check in to see if they needed any help.
I have a lot of life experience from working in the field; I base my teaching on presenting the material clearly with practical examples and prepare the students for the real life experience. When I was teaching Engineering Economic Analysis (CIVE 240), one of the assignments was a business letter to an owner describing five different options on how many stories should be constructed on a new office building. I explained to the students why it was important to write in a professional business tone, to take out the first person because in industry, you represent the opinion of the company and not just yourself.
Minority and female students will be able to identify with my multicultural background as a Filipina Italian American and struggle to finance a college education while being raised on public assistance as well as my professional work in a predominantly male industry. I am very open with my life experience and share my stories of overcoming financial and societal adversity and defying comments that women cannot successfully become managers in the construction industry. However, I recognize that no matter what age, sex, religion, or nationality, pursing an education in engineering and securing work after graduation is achievable with hard work and dedication, as I have proved in my own career. I was promoted to project manager five years after I started as an entry level engineer. As a role model in my community working with various non-profit organizations, it would be advantageous to have access to the classroom setting. Students need good influence to find ways to navigate difficult life situations and with hard work they will be successful.
I feel that students are our future planners, engineers and leaders and the oneness is on us to positively impact their experience in the classrooms and in industry. I have hired Drexel co-op students in the past and have witnessed them graduate and become construction professionals that I have done business with. Every student has the ability to be successful and it is my job as an educator to prepare them in the best way possible. One way that I have prepared students is by working with them in the field, and delegating a task to them, such as writing a memo to a contractor to provide additional pricing for extra work, and working them from start to finish. Whenever I invest my time and exhibit patience with teaching a student the right way the first time; it always results in them successfully completing the task to my standards.
Teaching Responsibilities and Methods
Teachers come in many shapes and sizes. Some teachers are strict, some are your friends, and some are just right. I like to keep that balance in my approach as an educator, to be strict, but flexible enough that the students don’t feel strangled!
This flexibility can be achieved by utilizing teamwork to connect with students and command their attention when introducing novel concepts of sustainability in the civil engineering discipline. I display my enthusiasm by speaking confidently in a volume that can be heard evenly throughout the classroom and always remembering to smile J I also stimulate conversation by asking questions and then giving feedback in the classroom and soliciting other student’s opinion and thoughts on that topic.
The main way that I keep a light atmosphere is with humor. I often think that when I laugh at my own engineering jokes, that I’ve really arrived as a teacher. I don’t believe a lecture is an opportunity to have a stand-up comedy routine, however, a small joke or laugh mixed in with a lecture is very helpful.
I have taught undergraduate students at variety of ages during my tenure as a TA. I worked in the College of Engineering as a teaching fellow for the freshman design program with a majority of first year students fresh out of high school. It was very interesting to guide these students from high school learning, for example filling out an essay with 250 words just to make the word limit to collegiate learning where as an engineer, every word counts, and being brief is better than over-explaining. This was a shared lab experience, so we entertained about 50 students between two fellows and we were responsible for managing half of the students administratively.
I worked with sophomores in Engineering Economic Analysis, Survey and Geology, and Intro to Civil Engineering. The class size on average is a total of 80 students with anywhere from 20-40 students in an individual lab section. The sophomores are challenging to work with because it is their first time working with the department TA’s and there is a learning curve for them to get used to turning in CAEE specific lab reports, and getting to know the faculty and their teaching style. Survey was an infield lab experience, Geology and Intro to Civil Engineering labs were held in the classroom, and there were two in classroom labs for Engineering Economic Analysis.
I worked with the third year or pre-junior students in Soils Mechanics. I had another TA that I worked with for that section, and I was mainly responsible for the administrative work in that class. A majority of the students I knew from previous classes and labs, so it was much easier to work with a group of students who knew my grading style and approachable personality.
As a teaching assistant for a variety of courses, I had many responsibilities in assisting the Professor in the lab and as well as recitation. Here is the list of the courses that I have been assigned as a TA:
- Engineering Economic Analysis – CIVE 240 (80 students)
- Survey and Geology – CAEE 211, CIVE 241 (80 students)
- Soils Mechanics – CIVE 310 (80 students)
- Intro to Civil Engineering – CAEE 201 (80 students)
- Freshman Engineering Design Experience – ENGR 101, ENGR 102, ENGR 103 (48/lab section with 2 TA’s, each responsible for 24)
Here are some specific examples of different tasks that I completed as my tenure as a TA in many different classes.
- For Survey (CAEE 211) I re-developed the lab manual to incorporate better flow.
- In Introduction to Civil Engineering (CAEE 201), I maintained a student blog with help homework hints and solutions to labs for concepts that were difficult to understand.
- In Freshman Engineering Design (ENGR 101,102,103), I gave introduction lectures that I developed myself from the lab write up and coordinated with student mentors and professors.
- In Freshman Engineering Design (ENGR 101,102,103), I worked with the program director to help improve content weekly in the student labs and created a vetting process to anticipate issues that might arise with students in the lab. This class was for over 1200 freshman engineering design students.
- In Freshman Engineering Design (ENGR 101,102,103), one of the lab modules was building a robot. I taught myself and built my own robot, worked through the code to maneuver the robot, and related that work to the civil engineering students to make it relevant for other disciplines. I would explain to the students, that you will still need to understand work flow, it’s just to move a robot, but maybe we will move water through a pipe system.
- In Geology (CAEE 211), I worked with the professor to create the content for the labs, as well as the solution manual.
As a project manager in commercial construction, I managed many projects featuring: Healthcare, Life Sciences, Office Buildings and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Project Administration. I was also responsible for subcontractor negotiations, maintaining indoor air quality plan during construction and post construction flush out activity, Building Information Modeling (BIM) coordination, scheduling, budget control and commissioning.
Keeping the students engaged in communication during class will warrant better attendance and attention to the subject matter. I had very little students miss class while I was a TA for Survey (CAEE 211) because they enjoyed themselves in the field, because I created a professional atmosphere where we all worked together. I would help the students with layout, and help carry equipment just to be sure they had enough time to get all of their work done during the class period.
Another way to connect with the students is to be prepared. In Freshman Engineering Design (ENGR 101,102,103), I took about 4 hours weekly to learn all of the new material and do each lab that we were going to present to the students that week. I was able to teach the content to myself, work out any issues ahead of time, and I was way better versed on the content because I had already done it myself.
Industry Teaching Experience
One cannot quantify the value of this opportunity to share these “lessons learned” and mentor students. I faced many challenges in presenting new approaches to routine tasks such as promoting clean indoor air quality during construction to make better working conditions for field personnel. I could use this opportunity to utilize many of the same techniques that were successful in convincing that headstrong group, with making the case for sustainability appealing to today’s youth, in a tone they can apply to their lives.
With my industry experience, I provide real world examples of how I applied engineering in my daily work in the field. For the last building that I managed, we built a staircase in the middle of the office, and the engineers did not realize that the architect took the ceiling out and they ran all of their mechanical duct work through the open space. I worked with the mechanical contractor in the field to reroute the duct work, went back to the engineer with a hand sketch to make sure he would approve the new work, and then presented the additional cost to the owner, all while thinking quickly on my feet!
As a construction project manager, there were many facets of my career that applied the tenets of sustainability. The last building that I managed was certified to be a green building and it was part of my job to learn about the program and ensure the project was being constructed in the most sustainable way possible. I educated contractors in the field about recycling and water use reduction, enforcing sustainability throughout the construction process daily. This unique circumstance to advocate change in antiquated field practices fueled my motivation to appeal to a different audience via teaching in the classroom.
My most recent position was an owner’s representative for the Philadelphia Housing Authority and I spent time in low-income neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia, coordinating housing projects with design professionals, general contractors and PHA senior staff. I was successful in translating the needs of the community to the designers and builders to implement effective positive change. I also volunteer with the Delaware Valley Green Building Council, a local green building council where I collaborate with other professionals in the tri-state area advocating for change. I sit on the Education Committee where we organize events to educate construction professionals on USGBC events and sustainable change. I recently was selected to facilitate LEED AP study groups to students of all ages and background.
While my dissertation is focused on life cycle assessment of construction materials reuse and sustainable techniques, in my industry experience, I focused more on consuming less materials to create new buildings and trying to be as practical as possible. I researched and educated myself on third party “green programs” and got accredited as a LEED professional. I then began my teaching experience in the field, educating co-workers, subcontractors and construction field personnel on sustainable construction practices, and I have strengthened my academic teaching style with the courses I have taught as a Graduate Teaching Assistant. One of the first courses that I was assigned to as a TA was Survey (CAEE 211), and I shared stories of hiring survey crews to conduct building surveys to my students to aid them in writing their lab reports in a professional manner.
In addition to my management duties, I also developed, coordinated and implemented an in-house course where I instructed colleagues on the LEED credit rating system and sustainable construction practices. I created the entire course, study materials, quizzes and ensured success on the exam for students ranging from the mid-twenties to mid-fifties. I chaired the “green committee” where we incorporated sustainable concepts to routine construction tasks. I lobbied for change in a thirty year corporate policy on waste removal and proved the financial value of disposing of construction waste to single stream recycling trash haulers, instead of traditional landfill disposal.
Evidence of teaching success
Undergraduate education is rewarding and taxing all at the same time. At any given moment, a student could love you or hate you. I would like to think that the majority of the students have enjoyed working with me in the classroom. I can always tell that I’ve reached a student when they actually acknowledge my existence when I walk past them on campus!
In 2012 and 2013, I was nominated for a teaching excellence award given to TA’s from the graduate studies office for teaching Freshman Engineering Design (ENGR 101,102, 103) and as a CAEE department TA. I also included two example emails from students thanking me for going the extra distance and doing a good job.