Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Engineering Faculty - How Not to Talk to Parents and Potential Students

We’ve been making the rounds with my youngest daughter who is a junior in high school. She’s interested in a college that has a strong Mechanical Engineering program. She’s not interested in going to a large university - she’s looking for something a little smaller.

So far we’ve checked out some really good schools and have had some great visits. One in particular was so bad though I just have to write about it. No names.... Here’s how the day went in bullet form:
  • 3 hour ride so we leave early.
  • Get to the school and find the admissions office.
  • Admissions office staff tells us about our appointment with the Mechanical Engineering Department Chair. We get the name and “office” location of the chair and head over to the Engineering building.
  • We get over to the Engineering building and find out the “office” is actually a small conference room. 
  • There are two other families with us. Two of the potential students are female and one is male.
  • The department chair (at least I think he was the department chair but not 100% sure) shows up.
  • The professor/chair spends 15-20 minutes talking about himself. The awards he has received, the grants he has. When he found out we were from Massachusetts of course he just had to tell us about all the time he had spent and great work he had done at MIT.
  • So far, just a waste of everyone’s time. No real damage.... yet.
  • It gets bad though when someone breaks in with a question.
  • One of the parents asks about curriculum. He goes into a diatribe about how he is teaching the same courses as MIT using the “big thick classic books”. He mentions ABET but does not describe what it is or means. Other families are so lost.
  • He then stressed over and over again about how much time students have to spend reading these classic textbooks each week. He indicated with his fingers (about an inch) saying “this thick” for each class. He says "this thick" and indicating with his fingers at least 10 times. Each time he does it is with a scowl on his face. 
  • He then tells us the problem with American students is "you are lazy" and “you will likely fail”. This time with a look of disgust on his face.
  • “You will have at the most 4 hours per week of free time. You can use this time to go to the mall (and that is a "waste of time") or to do your laundry. You will have no other free time and must constantly study those classic textbooks reading "this thick every week.”
  • Then we got more of the lazy American student language.
  • At this point I cut it off and told him we had another appointment and had to leave. The other two families got up and followed us as quickly as they could out the door.
  • I did tell them don't listen to that guy.
  • 3 hour plus ride home with traffic. What a wasted day.
Lucky for us my wife and I are both engineers and we were able to prevent some of the damage to our daughter. I cannot help but think about those other two families and those two 17-18 year olds whose dreams of studying engineering were likely destroyed in about 20 minutes by this guy. One of the families had a younger sibling and that kid has likely been damaged too. Nice work.

Again, no names here. I am sending a link to this post though to the admissions director at that school.

UPDATE 3/30/12:

The Dean of the Engineering school called late this afternoon and we talked for a long time. Good honest discussion and he is going to be sure this does not happen again. I was impressed with his understanding and dedication to the program and especially the students. 

I feel confident the problem will be taken care of. You know I'll be checking! 

I spend a lot of time (it's 100% of my own time, not work) writing and I wonder sometimes if what I'm doing is having any impact at all. Today was pretty good!


Anonymous said...

Hey Gordie, I had a similar experience with my daughter at an engineering school. I believe it had to do with her being female but that is just my theory. Some of the schools were good but more that a few were similar experiences to yours. I enjoy your writing and it has been good to connect and read your stuff even though I don't understand 90% of it :) This one I can relate to. Your old UMass Microbiology lab partner, Charlie

Barbara W said...

Send this to the Chronicle.

Barbara W said...

Send this to The Chronicle. Sad...

Gordon F Snyder Jr said...

Thanks Barbara. I sent over the link to the Chrnicle.
And - great to hear from you Charlie. Hope things went well with your daughter in the end and she did not get scared away.