Evelyn Hu

2005 DTS Award
University of California, Santa Barbara

Evelyn Hu

Jeanne L. Narum, Director, Project Kaleidoscope, interviewing Dr. Evelyn Hu.

If a visitor were to come into your classroom/lab— the environment in which you work with students— what impression would s/he leave with?

For the classroom: an environment that encourages questions, that solicits opinions from students, that tries to bring in real-world applications and ideas.

For the lab: a broad variety of different projects, an easy interaction with students, a collaborative environment that encourages discussion, initiative and exploration.

What brought you to an interest in "advancing the frontiers of education" and to connecting your research to that work?"

I'm not sure that I am actually "advancing the frontiers of education"— but I believe that education and research are inevitably linked and coupled, that doing "real things" and engaging in discovery is one of the best ways of catalyzing education— that seeing ideas take seed and develop, whether in a student in the classroom, office or lab is one of the greatest rewards an academic can receive.

Were there risks in doing this? What were they? What made you persevere? How have you documented the successes of your educational efforts?

The risks are minimal— although some would argue that investing too much time in education takes away from investment of time in some the many, many other obligations that university professors must meet. The risks in trying new ideas in education are (as with anything) that the ideas and approach don’t work, fall flat — whether because some critical underlying assumptions were incorrect (what is valuable, what is interesting, what skills are required) or the resources weren’t sufficient, or whatever. But that is a small risk to try something that could work, could transform the classroom and education.

What connections have been of most value in pursuing these efforts, within your campus community as well as in the broader professional communities to which you belong?

Interactions with outstanding education staff with strong ties to educators at all levels in the community, collaborations with like-minded faculty in various departments, who have a broad vision of, and passion for education.

What kind of institutional culture needs to be in place to nurture careers of faculty actively seeking to integrate their research and education?

Incentives, rewards for excellence in, and commitment to teaching (at the very least, no punishments), infrastructure to help make possible class development (and schemes like team-teaching, for example), mentorship.

What can be done at the national level to encourage and support efforts like your and those of many other leading agents of change on campuses across the country?

Strategic publicity about the impact of the programs, adequate recognition of these efforts.

Please tell us about the project that you will be undetaking as part of the DTS award. How can others become involved with and/or continue to be informed about your work?

The goal is to form the modules of a course that truly integrate science/engineering within a broader historical, economic and sociological impact. We would focus on topics such as the cell phone or the hybrid electric car, and deal with the important scientific concepts that enable the invention (with a corresponding lab). We would also discuss the societal issues: acceptance, needed infrastructure, economic environment, global impact, widespread dissemination, change in quality of live and way of life.

The course would be developed and first taught (to undergraduates) by graduate students (under faculty supervision). The graduate students would assess, refine and document the module, ultimately forming a library of topics such as cell phones, computers, hybrid electric vehicles, rapid DNA-typing, etc.— that would hopefully serve as a general education course to be taken by every incoming college student.

The goal is to achieve a widespread scientific literacy, and a widespread understanding of the role of science and technology in our society. We hope to disseminate these modules broadly, and have them serve as building blocks for similar course development.