Leah Jamieson

Purdue University
2001 DTS Award

Leah Jamieson
Ransburg Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Purdue University

NSF Award Recognition


Jeanne L. Narum, Director, Project Kaleidoscope, interviewing Dr. Leah Jamieson

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?

What I hope they would leave with is a sense of learning by doing, the opportunity to deeply engage with exciting projects, and a sense of ownership.

Engineers have a bigger opportunity in this area. There has been a big gap between the perception of what engineers do and the social awareness of engineering. Engineering and community involvement are words not often used in the same sentence. But the idea that engineers make things that help people-this is a powerful concept.

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

One summer a group of colleagues decided to spend time together doing what we should be doing and were not. It was an extremely close collaboration. We started looking at things that had not changed in a very long time and what people in industry were thinking about.

We were hearing from many direction-industry, the press, deans reports-that everyone was happy with the technical strengths in engineering. But it was also clear that we were lacking in communication, teamwork, and on ethical issues. This was a few years before ABET, but the same messages were explicit.

There was another piece that made everything click. Our engineering students needed a different kind of education and community organizations were developing an increased dependence on technology but without the money to support it.

On one project, we worked with a collection of agencies in the county working with the homeless on how to coordinate and share information. They needed to protect client confidentiality but also allow clients to go from one agency to another and receive appropriate services. We developed a management information system that simplifies the intake form-made it more uniform, more carefully controlled-that helped achieve an unduplicated count of homeless in the county. There was no previous way to do this and it is a better way to measure progress.

Were there risks in doing this? What made you persevere?

We were doing something different. There were curricular issues with multidisciplinary work-students in different departments getting credit-the university is not set up well to do this. There were lots of day to day challenges in getting the program off the ground. There was a sentiment that if we do this we'll be taking students attention away from "real" engineering. They didn't think this is what parents were paying for their students to learn.

Promotion and tenure was not a problem for us; we were both full professors. Now one of the co-directors is in electrical engineering/education and doing education work is part of his job definition. That has been deliberate on our part. Still there are challenges. How do you document achievement in education? How does the institution value work that is highly collaborative? These are still questions.

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 ties to the community and the openness of the community have been invaluable. It does require some tolerance to work with students. By definition they don't know how to do this. Funding from corporations has been helpful. Support from national community service groups-like Campus Compact-has been important. A consulting corps offered workshop on service learning at Purdue.

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?

It is a risk, especially in the context of current institutional culture when anything you do that takes you away from research is a risk. This has to change. My advice: whatever you are doing-in research or in education-do it extraordinarily well. Make it high quality and make sure is it documented that you are a valuable faculty member. The quality of the work is the lynchpin.

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

Recognition is important-the DTS program and others-for accomplishments that are better aligned with educational goals. We need a faculty culture that really values both research and teaching and service.

What can be done at the national level to encourage and support efforts?

NSF has take good steps to encourage institutional change, but we are not there yet. They do send a message that is important. Also, companies talking to universities about what kind of graduates they need. If corporate support and federal funding are important and the sources of your support are calling for a change, it's pragmatic.

What is the project you are undertaking as part of your DTS award? How can others be involved?

For the award, we have a team of management students doing interviews with students to learn how student teams work together toward common goals and what approaches make it more effective. The award is actually just one of the efforts underway to understand multidisciplinary teams.