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As I retake writing on this blog, I would like to echo Clark Kerr’s words on the preface to “The Uses of the University”:

… it is well to note that in the discussion that follows, analysis should not be confused with approval or description with defense.

Study Tactics

A new school year is about to start. This is a good time to review your study tactics.

Mexican Engineering Students

According to a recent Business Week article, Mexico (pop. 107 million) has 451,000 students enrolled in full-time undergraduate engineering programs. In comparison, the U.S. (pop. 298 million) has just over 370,000 full-time engineering students.

Engineering Education in Florida (2004)

According to NACME’s 2005 Data Book, Florida is the 3rd producer of underrepresented minority engineering baccalaureates.

The University of Florida and the University of Central Florida are among the top 30 producers of engineering Bachelor’s degree recipients, ranked 9th and 28th respectively. They are also among the top 25 producers of African American and Hispanic engineering Bachelor’s degree recipients.

Florida International University, University of Miami, University of South Florida and Florida Atlantic University are also among the top 25 producers of Hispanic engineering Bachelor’s degree recipients.

Underrepresented Minorities in Engineering – 2004 Data

Highlights from the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME) Symposium 2005 Data Book

Top States Producing Underrepresented Minority Engineering Baccalaureates (2004)

  1. California (982)
  2. Texas (925)
  3. Florida (840)

Top Producers of Engineering Bachelor’s Degree Recipients (2004)

  1. Georgia Institute of Technology (1,715)
  2. Pennsylvania State University (1,352)
  3. North Carolina State University-Raleigh (1,308)

Top Producers of African American Engineering Bachelor’s Degree Recipients (2004)

  1. North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (149)
  2. Georgia Institute of Technology (133)
  3. Tennessee State University (109)

Top Producers of Hispanic Engineering Bachelor’s Degree Recipients (2004) *

  1. Florida International University (136)
  2. University of Texas – El Paso (130)
  3. University of Florida (123)

* Excludes the University of Puerto Rico – Mayaguez (612) and Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico (379)

Top Producers of Native American Engineering Bachelor’s Degree Recipients (2004)

  1. University of Oklahoma (25)
  2. Oklahoma State University (15)
  3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (14)

% of Engineering Doctorates Earned by Minorities (2004)

  • 3.2 %

African American and Hispanics as a Percentage of All Engineering Faculty, Fall 2004

  • Hispanic – 2.3%
  • African American – 2.3%

Laptop Bans

A University of Memphis law professor angered some of her students for banning the use of laptops in her class. She felt laptops were “turning her students into stenographers and inhibiting classroom debate”.

I understand her complaints. I taught computer courses at two career colleges for a year. Obviously all my classes were conducted in classrooms were each student had her own computer. This setting allowed for students to do active learning in class assignments were they created documents, programmed, searched the Internet, etc. Unfortunately the computers also facilitated distractions when students drifted off to read e-mail, chat, play, surf the Web, etc.

Last time I was in college as a student (1998), laptops were not cheap enough to be ubiquitous. But I noticed that the few laptops in the class were a distraction for me and others due to the typing noise and the temptation to look over the shoulder of the owner to check what he was typing or looking at.

Now I’m a graduate student again and find myself trying to keep better class notes than the last time I was in school. I like to take notes on paper; I like to make diagrams and draw connections between my notes. But I rarely, almost never, go back to re-read my notes and when I need to recall something the professor said I have a hard time finding it in my notebook. So now I occasionally bring my laptop to class to take notes. I keep them in a great program called OneNote (I will blog about it some day) were I can easily organize and search them. I can also create calendar and To Do list items for classwork while still in the classroom.

I’ll confess that I sometimes get distracted or distract others with my computer, but for the most part I think it is very productive to use my laptop in class. I don’t need the laptop to take the class, but it makes my life a bit easier so I would be a bit disappointed if a professor banned it from the classroom.

I have the feeling that a teacher who only teaches through lecturing would have to be concerned about students becoming stenographers. On the other hand, teachers that keep an active / interactive classroom won’t have as many problems with computers interrupting learning.

What do you think about the use of laptops in the classroom?

First African American Woman …

Another “First African American woman” might be used to describe Shirley Ann Jackson if she is selected to preside Harvard University. Her name is being suggested by academic leaders along with that of other women and scientists as possible candidates.

Jackson was the first African American woman to:

A past president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and an insatiable intellectual, she has lectured on topics as diverse as Ethiopian art and opto-electronic materials, and has established a biotechnology center at Rensselaer, dedicated to combating what she calls a ”quiet crisis” of too few American engineers and scientists.

”African-American. Woman. Physicist. Proven university administrator,” Trachtenberg said. ”She has the charm of being both right for the moment at Harvard, a radical departure and answer to the critics of the last five years, and simultaneously capable of doing the job. What a wonderful thing when two things like that come together in one person at the right time.” Boston Globe

As an RPI alumna, I am impressed by the way Dr. Jackson has transformed the school; it would be a shame to see her leave. On the other hand, it would be amazing to see a woman like her presiding over the most prestigious university in the nation.

Race, Meritocracy, and the American Academy

That is the title of an essay by Dr. James Anderson on the integration of African American faculty in northern (non-HBCU) institutions in the 1940s.

Dr. Allison Davis was said to be the first African American to be granted tenure at a northern predominantly white university in 1943 (or 1941 according to other sources). Fred G. Wale, director of the Rosenwald Fund, conducted a campaign to place highly qualified African American scholars as full professors in northern institutions. Anderson discusses Wale’s correspondence with university presidents and their conflicting views on meritocracy (for it) and the integration of African American professors (against it).

Alternative Assignments

So much is being written these days about academic freedom. Here are two pieces from another angle on this subject: students requesting to opt out of assignments. An article on Inside Higher Ed describes complaints in Arizona for a reading assignment of a novel considered offensive. It bothered a legislator enough to propose a bill that:

would require public colleges to provide students with “alternative coursework” if a student finds the assigned material “personally offensive,” which is defined as something that “conflicts with the student’s beliefs or practices in sex, morality or religion.”

Dean Dad relates his own experience with this opt out trend. High school students taking courses at community colleges sometimes encounter course material for which they are too young. The question is whether to make an “exception” every time this happens? or simply ask that the student does not enroll in course that could contain adult material?

How Did I Do It?

After a day of doing research online (from home!), one thought comes to mind: “How did I finish my Bachelors without the Web?” I started engineering studies in 1992, yes, before we had the Web. No Google, no electronic journal database, limited computer time on campus. Ok, I do remember how I did it… I had to do a lot more work to get far less done!

I’m not saying the Web or other computer technology makes it all easy now, but there are certain tasks that are now so simple. I might as well take the time to thank Tim Berners-Lee. I don’t think he get the recognition he deserves. (If don’t know who Tim Berners-Lee is, you should!).