You’ll notice that I only have one page dedicated to teaching and mentorship. That’s because for me teaching and mentorship are inseparable! Discussing environmental engineering concepts to my students or scientific methodology with my mentees always involves providing insight into their future academic and professional goals. I also strongly believe that teaching and mentorship are not only necessary at the university level but throughout the K-12 community as well. Reaching out to students throughout elementary, middle, and high school is important not only for inspiring the next generation of STEM innovators but also for educating everyone in STEM topics and making everyone involved in the scientific and technological advances that are shaping our world now and will continue to shape it in the future!
In summer of 2013, I had the privilege of tutoring a fellow colleague and friend in helping him succeed in his Calculus 2 course. Tutoring required me to focus on providing clear, concise explanations to problems and being able to thoroughly and logically explain my reasoning. I also gained experience in determining where potential difficulties in solving problems may occur. I am overjoyed and proud to say that my friend aced his class and we both emerged brighter and more skilled with problem solving – mathematical and otherwise.
Motiv-8: University of Florida
During my first academic year at UF, I was involved with Motiv-8 – an organization concerned with providing “at risk” middle school students in Alachua County with a mentor to help them with schoolwork and/or just being a friend and someone to talk to. I was extremely fortunate to be selected as an volunteer. From participating in this program, I had the privilege of mentoring two middle school students that academic year. Mentoring allowed me to further improve my communication skills and interact better with people of all ages. Over eight months I bonded with my two mentees and helped them excel in their classes by developing a teaching approach based on discussing concepts while leading them to find their own answers inspiring academic confidence, something I lacked at their age. We discussed future career possibilities, my academic plan, and how engineering relates to their lives. Exploring engineering with my mentees introduced me to a love for explaining STEM concepts and how they impact the world in a manner understandable to all ages and backgrounds.
Graham Center Civic Scholars 2016 Program Mentor
For the 2016 Program, I served as a mentor for this year’s scholars to tackle the issue of adequate mental health services for children within Florida. I strived to provide timely and helpful advice to my mentees to ensure they met and exceeded the goals outlined for this endeavor to understand the overall situation in their counties and how to develop the best possible solutions. Much like my experience as a mentor for Motiv-8, I again found mentoring to be extremely rewarding, and it showed me how research and service go hand in hand to directly improve the world around us.
Graduate Teaching Assistant: Introduction to Engineering
I served as a teaching assistant throughout the Summer B and Fall 2017 semesters for a class called Introduction to Engineering. In this class, groups of 20 students (about 240 a semester) would circulate throughout each engineering department at the University of Florida over the course of a semester to try and determine which branch of engineering was the right fit for them. Each week, I’d introduce one of these groups to the world of environmental engineering. Taking note of current, real-life issues in environmental engineering, such as the Flint, MI water crisis, I encouraged my classes to critically think about these dilemmas while guiding them to their own conclusions and emphasizing their roles as protectors of the public – that is the paramount duty of all engineers regardless of their specialization!
I found teaching to be an extremely rewarding (and sometimes a little challenging) hobby. As in any class, some of my students were always more enthusiastic to be there than others. A majority of them typically have an idea of what type of engineering they want to pursue or at least a small handful of choices. Environmental engineering is one of the smallest engineering departments in the college, and I had quite a few students who never even heard of it before or knew what environmental engineers did. My favorite question to ask students in the beginning of each class is, “What do you think environmental engineering is?” I received the gamut of answers from working with renewable energy, to water treatment, to natural resource management. This became one of my favorite questions to ask anyone just because there’s a lot of things environmental engineers do that a lot of people don’t even consider – especially waste management, a personal interest of mine.
It was easy to get carried away in the beginning with going in-depth into topics such as water treatment, landfill design, and air pollution control systems. I pulled out physics and chemistry principles and mathematical equations out of nowhere onto my unsuspecting freshmen. I quickly remembered my background coming out of high school and worked to streamline my lectures to keep them as informative but also as fundamental as possible. I wanted my students to appreciate what it took for them to get safe, clean drinking water from their faucets, to understand where their garbage and recycling goes, and the variety of devices that can capture air pollutants.
Besides educating my students on purely environmental engineering concepts, teaching gave me a chance to keep mentoring. For me, teaching and mentoring are inseparable, and through teaching I have been able to assist students with their future professional and personal goals. I always made sure to mention to my students the importance of polishing their resumes and attending info sessions for companies even as freshmen to gain experience in talking with recruiters and making a name for themselves. I also pushed them to consider undergraduate research if they haven’t thought about it already. Not only does this help them realize whether or not research and graduate study is the right fit for them but it also provides them with applicable experience when searching for that first internship. One afternoon, a student and I worked on his career plan after a class addressing his research passions and aspirations to work with NASA and SpaceX. Working with this student was one of the most rewarding experiences I have had in graduate school, as he remarked that our discussion helped him with setting his future goals more than all his visits to academic advisors.
I have also had many students come up to me after a lecture and ask me more about environmental engineering. This was always very exciting, and I had no problem talking their ears off going into topics from our lecture more in-depth. A few of them kept environmental engineering as a possible choice in declaring a major. Regardless of what types of engineering my students finally decide to pursue, I have always told them the same: pick what you love and work hard – you can do it! Don’t take failing a class as proof you can’t do it or shouldn’t do it. It’s not easy, but if you want it there’s nothing that can stop you. It’s worked for me so far.
Trash to Roads E-Fair Presentation:
In February of every year, the University of Florida hosts a series of events called E-Week, where the engineering field is celebrated and explained from series of guest talks to interactive demonstrations. One part of E-Week is E-Fair where children from K-12 schools come and are introduced to the world of engineering. For 2017, I had the privilege of presenting a project called Trash to Roads to both kids and adults. This poster is based off my current work with reusing waste-to-energy (WTE) ash from municipal solid waste incineration (MSWI). In my presentation, I showed the process in taking garbage from collection to road in the form of asphalt, concrete, and road base. I also demonstrated using scientific data how using WTE ash in roads compares to when we just use regular, virgin aggregates.
My poster I presented: Trash to Roads
The biggest challenge for me was making a poster that was academic in nature while still having the basic goal of the project easily understood by those youngest members of our society. I feel it is important to give K12 students a taste of what academic research consists of while also not bogging them down with jargon and too many extraneous details. I wanted to leave them with an understanding that reusing WTE ash can help save natural resources and reduce CO2 emissions associated with mining and processing virgin aggregates while also acknowledging that every great idea usually has some other consequences that need to be dealt with. For instance, some WTE ash may contain high amounts of heavy metals which is not good from an environmental and human health perspective. Additionally, WTE ash itself is inherently an inconsistent product. It is up to us engineers to resolve both these concerns!
I also took this chance to show kids how much fun engineering was! From test preparations, there were plenty of samples left over which made excellent show-and-tell pieces. The kids (and adults) loved interacting with these and spotting out the pieces of metals and glass in them. I first showed them some raw ash – straight from the landfill, then displayed the finished asphalt and concrete products. The cross sections of asphalt and concrete readily show the ash pieces, including ceramics, glass, and metals! You can see the pictures of the raw ash, asphalt pill, and asphalt “Rice Test” sample below. For more details and pictures of these asphalt and concrete cross sections, please check out my Graduate Research Page!
Raw ash consisting of “coarse” and “fine” material.
Ash amended asphalt pill prepared in the laboratory using SUPERPAVE gyratory compaction.
A sample of broken up asphalt used in the “Rice Test” (look up close and you’ll see some pieces of ash).
Interacting with these kids was particularly important to me when I consider my past as a K12 student, especially in elementary and middle school. During these years I felt like I did not have a good understanding as to why the math and science I was learning was relevant to the real world besides passing some state mandated test. Showing kids how math and science tie into engineering and creating the world around us is an amazing experience and has been one of the highlights of my graduate career so far. Seeing a kid get excited about your work and engineering is one of the best feelings out there!