By Bryan Hay
You can almost feel the curiosity, maybe a little anxiety, in Room 115 at Hugel Science Center.
It’s Aug. 28, the first day of the Introduction to Engineering class for one group of 19 first-year students who either aspire to be engineers or are exploring whether the area of study fits with their dreams and ambitions.
Backpacks, water bottles, and cellular devices have already been stowed away. Acquaintances and the beginnings of what could become lifelong friendships are quietly established.
Kristen Sanford Bernhardt, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, soon arrives to welcome members of the Class of 2021. She gives them an overview of her personal background and passion for transportation and infrastructure and how and why their social, political, and economic tendrils are intertwined.
In a matter of minutes, the class takes on more engineered permanence when Sharpies of varying colors are passed around and students ink their preferred names on tent cards. Professor Sanford Bernhardt— always use “professor” when unsure of how to address your instructor, she advises in a quick tip of academic etiquette — moves quickly into the subject matter.
“I want to get you thinking about engineering,” she says. “How many of you have done concept maps?”
In concept maps, drawings are used to illustrate relationships between ideas and concepts. The method is used by engineers to organize their knowledge of a subject. Using the technique, the students are asked to brainstorm about what engineering means to them.
Sanford Bernhardt insists there are no right or wrong answers, and the responses would not be graded.
No pressure, says the professor, who enjoys classic rock in the background while working.
“The Joker” by the Steve Miller Band plays softly as unblemished yellow pencils start scratching out ideas on blank paper. “People talk about me, baby. Say I’m doin’ you wrong, doin’ you wrong. Well, don’t you worry, baby. Don’t worry. ’Cause I’m right here, right here, right here, right here at home.”
A metaphoric message on this first day of Lafayette engineering and all its possibilities.
Assignments made. Syllabi distributed. Expectations set.
Luke Taylor ’21 of Franklin Lakes, N.J., his sights set on civil engineering, is already thinking about ways to change society. New York City is on his mind.
“I think about transportation systems, bridges, and tunnels, and how I might work to make things better,” he says. “There are only a few ways into the city. When you consider the buses and thousands of cars trying to squeeze into two lanes at the Lincoln Tunnel, you know there has to be a better way.”
With thoughts focused on her fellow Texans in peril from rising floodwater, Adriana Ventura ’21 of Dallas is considering mechanical or chemical engineering.
“I want to go into engineering to create solutions that will protect people,” she says.