Challenges Remain for SEAS, Murray Says

Faculty, staff and students in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences joined SEAS Dean Cherry A. Murray for this semester’s All Hands meeting to highlight the renewed emphasis on teaching labs at SEAS as well as goals for future investment across the School.

Growing interest in SEAS—the school has seen steady increase in student interest both at the undergraduate and graduate levels—has paralleled expansion. But Murray said there is still work to be done.

“[We are] still building, working on lab space, [and] suitable infrastructure for enhanced student needs,” she said, adding that the School intends to improve student experience by “filling out” key faculty slots and planning more student-faculty social events.

SEAS has also dedicated considerable resources to improving teaching labs—space for students to fulfill course lab components—and maximizing their use in course curricula, a primary focus of Friday’s meeting.

Anas Chalah, director of instructional laboratories at SEAS, said that teaching labs represent “an exciting educational experience for our students” by allowing them to design solutions to the problems they study in class.

But Chalah noted that the continued efficacy of teaching labs will require greater investment in infrastructure and facilities, a sentiment that was brought up during last spring’s All Hands meeting and echoed again by Murray on Friday.

SEAS currently supports lab components for 50 percent of its courses—a statistic Chalah hopes will double by next year.

Professors of lab-supported courses presented on the work of their students during the second half of the meeting.

Projects included the modeling of structural dynamics of bicycles, hands-on techniques to determine the chemical and physical properties of minerals, and the transmission of music using a laser beam.

“Around SEAS, we’ve got lots of bright students who are really looking for real world problems to get their hands on,” said Conor J. Walsh, a lecturer on engineering sciences.

Faculty members said they supported the continued discussion on teaching labs.

But professors and students alike also acknowledged that teaching labs cannot be SEAS’ only focus.

“Engineering has a ways to go at Harvard before it reaches its full potential,” said Robert W. Brockett, a professor in electrical engineering and computer science at SEAS who was awarded the Capers and Marion McDonald Award for Excellence in Mentoring and Advising at the end of the meeting.

He added that in addition to supporting lab space, SEAS must support its faculty, who have to meet a slew of demands—from being “inspiring teachers” and conducting research to supporting and funding graduate students—he said.

Jared D. Dourdeville ’11, who was awarded the second prize of the afternoon—the Society of American Military Engineers Award—said that labs should be incorporated into the curriculum with care.

“I’d say, honestly, two of the engineering classes I enjoyed the most were ES 50 and ES 51, and a big part of the reason I enjoyed those classes was the lab component,” he said. “There has to be a balance. Engineering is already one of the most, if not the most, rigorous concentrations on campus ... Labs in theory are great but they also do come with that time expense.”

The All-Hands meeting meets biannually in an effort to update the entire SEAS community on developments in and future goals for the School.

—Staff writer Amy Guan can be reached at guan@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Radhika Jain can be reached at radhikajain@college.harvard.edu.

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