Chris Rogers

Tufts University
2003 DTS Award

Dr. Chris Rogers
Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering
Tufts University

Dr. Rogers' Homepage

NSF Award Recognition


Jeanne L. Narum, Director, Project Kaleidoscope, interviewing Dr. Chris Rogers.

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?

I would hope that the visitor would leave with a better understanding of fluid mechanics or robotics. I would also hope that the visitor leaves curious and interested in learning more. As to the impression of the class itself - I am not sure - probably that the students are enthusiastic and the class is slightly chaotic.

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

It seemed natural - I was excited about the research and the teaching - so it makes sense that they would merge. Not all my research overlaps with my teaching - and many of my more "unique" teaching techniques have little to do with my research, but I find innovation in teaching just as exciting as innovation in research.

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

With any "new" approach, people are always a little surprised, and spending time on teaching was more of a "risk" before I was tenured since innovation in teaching does not carry the same weight as innovation in research. My university has always been very supportive with all of my innovations. Some of the material has been documented in the ASEE journal and other places.

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?

The NSF's recent emphasis on teaching through their CAREER awards and others has really helped increase the awareness and support of good teaching. The Tufts administration has always been willing to allow me to try new ideas and has provided some seed money to make these ideas happen.

For faculty at an early career stage, it is difficult to figure out how to balance responsibilities for research and teaching while having a personal life; any advice - for them and for faculty at any stage?

Only that the personal life is very important and should not take a back seat to the pressures of getting tenure. One should be a professor for the love of teaching and research - if one is working too hard to enjoy it then something is wrong.

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

The tenure process has to reward innovation in teaching with equal zeal as innovation in research.

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

Linking research dollars with teaching innovation is a great first step. Requiring some teaching experience for tenure-track positions and offering methodology courses to PhD students is also necessary. It is interesting that quite a few schools make sure that their doctoral students can speak at least two languages but few ensure that they can teach. It would seem that the latter is more important, even for those going into industry.

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

The work outlined on the DTS award was to improve our understanding of how students learn through engineering, to build a community of people helping move engineering into the K-12 area, and to push the ceiling on the LEGO mindstorms product. Most of this work is happening as part of the Tufts University Center for Engineering Education Outreach (http://www.ceeo.tufts.edu). We have two doctoral students working on different aspects of learning engineering - including the differences between how teachers learn and students learn. The DTS grant is also partially funding our first ROBOLAB conference this August, an effort to build a community of teachers and volunteers working to bring engineering into the pre-college classroom. It is also funding the RoboTable - our attempt at hands-on engineering education over the Internet.