Macademics: Engineering Education

Hello Everyone! Welcome back for another installment of Macademics. This week, I'm featuring one of my friends Racheida Lewis. Who is a PhD Candidate in Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. I got the chance to interview her to learn more about her journey. Check it out!

Can you describe your educational background?

I graduated in 2013 with a Bachelor's of Science in Electrical Engineering from Virginia Commonwealth University. I then completed a Masters in Engineering in Electrical Engineering from the University of Virginia in 2015. Currently, I am a PhD Candidate in Engineering Education at Virginia Tech and anticipate graduating in the Spring/Summer of 2019.

What is Engineering Education?

Engineering education is the study of teaching knowledge, principles, and best practices to the engineering profession.

Can you provide an example of where someone with a PhD in Engineering Education would work?

The "traditional" route would be to be a tenure track faculty member either in an engineering education department or in their home/technical discipline. Some people go into support services roles (minority program directors), some go into teaching faculty positions, some go into industry (recruiting methods, and training), and there are many other possibilities based on interest.

Why did you want to study engineering education? Did you know that's what you always wanted to do?

I did know I wanted to do this but not formally. During my junior year at VCU I worked as a UTA (undergrad ta) for Circuits I and II and I worked at the Writing Center. There was something very genuine about the feeling I’d receive when helping a student be successful (understanding concepts, writing great papers, whatever). I knew that I wanted to do that for the rest of my life. I also knew I wanted to get a PhD (because I’m a Gates Millennial Scholar and they were “paying” for it so why not) but I didn’t really understand my WHY until my junior year. I knew that in order to have job security (aka tenure) I needed a PhD. Going through my master’s program I became increasing interested in the role first-year engineering course play in one’s decision to stay in engineering and since then I’ve been on the path of researching that question.

What have been some of your favorite classes?

My fave classes have been Contemporary Pedagogy (CP) and Constructivism (C). CP discussed various ways that we as teachers can engage the modern students during class sessions. C discussed the various ways people construct knowledge - understanding what things are social constructs, how they came to be social constructs, and other nuances that impact how we think about the world and learning today.

How has the journey been to getting your PhD? What have been some road blocks, how have you overcome them?

The first major road block would be failing my qualifiers. I wasn’t prepared despite my best efforts to try to be. Interestingly enough that in a program where we discuss good assessments, I struggled to understand how this was actually assessing me. I failed 2/3 questions. The following semester I worked hand in hand with my advisor to rewrite those questions, understand my shortcomings, and re-took the exam. I passed the second time :).

What's the best piece of advice that you have received?

2 things: 1) Your journey is yours alone. It is unfair to you to compare your journey to that of someone else’s. and 2) It’s great that you have all these ideas but for your dissertation focus on ONE. The rest can be your life’s work.

Do you have any advice for those wanting to pursue a career in STEM or getting a PhD?

Remember your WHY. Sometimes I get discouraged or lazy and feel like I don’t want to do this anymore - I have a masters I can still teach with that. But thinking about the students I really want to impact and how I want to leave my mark on this world, a PhD helps me do that better (and with more respect). Being an instructor for first-year students provides me with a bi-weekly reminder of why I’m doing this.

Thank you Racheida for letting me feature you! If you want to check out what she's doing outside of work, you should check out her blog:

#EngineeringEducation #RoadToPhD #TrynaGrad #NSBE #BlackEngineers #WomenEngineers #WomenInEducation


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