My Experience in Service Learning

This post is an edited excerpt of the journal I kept when I was in Senegal.

It’s been awhile since I’ve been back and I am not sure if this entry will be as genuine as it would have been had I written it as soon as I  came back. Service abroad presents its challenges. I was lucky not to encounter many of them since I went in a country where I knew how to speak the language (the official one), and I looked like one of the locals.

The toughest  challenge is to get over that initial hurdle, those first weeks. After those, I believe that if you are focused you will accomplish what you set out to do. You will feel all ranges of emotions and experience all kinds of learning that are usually unreachable in a busy society because of fear and stress.

Service abroad is rewarding. To me, the experience of working with children was special as I never had the chance to take care of a younger sibling (being the youngest is not necessarily all perks). I was able to serve children and frankly, it is something that I didn’t know I had in me. This service experience was a reminder that individualism is not the best course of action in most cases. The selfless aspect of service helps me today put all my action in perspective. This experience also forced me to reconsider my goals, and to refine what were once ambitious statements into a lifelong pursuits.

Getting out of my comfort zone and being immersed in the environment I wanted to learn about was the best way to accelerate my learning. I have learned more about development in 8 weeks than I would have in year. Reading + Seeing + Thinking in context, in the environment put me at another level of learning. Full immersion in your area of study, I believe in necessary to achieve mastery, however before you achieve that level you learn a lot just by being partially immersed. If was given a chance to do it again, I would do so in a heartbeat.

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I will post more excerpts from my journal. This is the first post of many. Stay tuned.

Back to the Motherland

Today, I go back to Africa; Senegal to be more precise. I am exited and anxious about what I am about to experience.

  • What am I excited about?
  • New place to visit.
  • Almost tech free environment do I can actually focus on living.
  • Lots of downtime to read some classics.
  • Time to learn about me.

What am I anxious about?

  • The heat.
  • How I will handle being back in Africa for the first time.
  • Remembering French.

I hope it turns out great.
ps: it feels weird that this is my last post on US soil for awhile

Engineering EPortfolio: Reviewing What is Expected

Originally published on Veni Vidi Vici (portfolio site) on Jan 11, 2012


I was upset to find out how the engineering program at my school offers no flexibility in its schedule. I investigated why this was the norm across engineering programs. In my search, I found why there is no flexibility, but also a conviction to be more engaged in my education.

When I looked at the educational outcomes of my degree, there is no place that said I should gain deeper appreciation for the humanities, nor is there a clause for enjoying the classes I am going to take. There was a list learning outcomes that sound as technical as the word engineering, and they are as follows:


1. Ability to identify electrical engineering problems and apply mathematical, scientific and engineering knowledge to their solution.

2. Ability to conceive and execute experiments, and interpret results with insight appropriate to their training.

3. Ability to meet performance criteria in the design of components and engineering systems.

4. Ability to work effectively in groups representing varied engineering disciplines.

5. Understanding of their ethical responsibilities to the engineering profession and the community at large.

6. Communications skills appropriate to the profession.

7. A sufficiently broad education to understand the societal impact of engineering activity.

8. An appreciation of the importance of life-long learning.

9. Knowledge of current issues.

10. Ability to use their skills and tools as necessary in engineering practice.

link: http://xml.ee.nd.edu/purpose.html


I thought these criteria were arbitrary. However, they are similar across engineering majors, and this is because they share the same source: ABET student outcomes. The ABET is an non-profit organization that acts the agent of regulation for science and technology education. To learn more about them visit abet.org (and if you look around the site, you’ll understand why your curriculum is exactly the way it is). The students outcomes listed on their website are:


(a) an ability to apply knowledge of mathematics, science, and engineering

(b) an ability to design and conduct experiments, as well as to analyze and interpret data

(c) an ability to design a system, component, or process to meet desired needs within realistic constraints such as economic, environmental, social, political, ethical, health and safety, manufacturability, and sustainability

(d) an ability to function on multidisciplinary teams

(e) an ability to identify, formulate, and solve engineering problems

(f) an understanding of professional and ethical responsibility

(g) an ability to communicate effectively

(h) the broad education necessary to understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global, economic, environmental, and societal context

(i) a recognition of the need for, and an ability to engage in life-long learning

(j) a knowledge of contemporary issues

(k) an ability to use the techniques, skills, and modern engineering tools necessary for engineering practice.

link: http://www.abet.org/engineering-criteria-2012-2013/ — section: Student Outcomes


My found conviction asks me to take responsibility in my education. To me, engaging in my education means to ensure that the completion of the above goals do not solely rest on the work of my instructors. The initial step in my effort to engage with my education is to review these goals and compare them to my four year curriculum (link).

Below is my review of how well my curriculum will help me meet the student outcomes outlined by the ABET.

(a) an ability to apply knowledge of mathematics, science, and engineering

Good: plenty of mathematics (up to differential equations), plenty of science (chemistry, biochemistry, up to advanced topics in physics) and a lot of electrical engineering classes.

(b) an ability to design and conduct experiments, as well as to analyze and interpret data.

Good: Multiple labs (chemistry, physics, microelectronics and an additional lab class required).

(c) an ability to design a system, component, or process to meet desired needs within realistic constraints such as economic, environmental, social, political, ethical, health and safety, manufacturability, and sustainability

Maybe: looks like Senior Design meets the criteria mentioned above.

(d) an ability to function on multidisciplinary teams

Average: as of my second year, the only group work I’ve done is during my first year along other engineers. The EE goals specifies in groups of varied engineering, however I believe that engineers would benefit from working with students from other colleges.

(e) an ability to identify, formulate, and solve engineering problems

Good: Introduction to engineering and other engineering classes seem to satisfy this component.

(f) an understanding of professional and ethical responsibility

Maybe: there are classes offered that address this criteria, however they are not required.

(g) an ability to communicate effectively

Average: only required to take one writing class, and I’ve not been required to write a single academic papers this year.

(h) the broad education necessary to understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global, economic, environmental, and societal context

Maybe: same as (f). However the knowledge taught is sufficient to make such conclusion, but I have yet to be in a class that explicitly encourages the student to make the connections.

(i) a recognition of the need for, and an ability to engage in life-long learning

Below Average: the student is not stimulated to do so. The blame does not fall entirely on the instructor for this goal. The student needs to show interest for this too. Also, I have yet to hear a professor recommend possible ways to become a lifelong learner in my classes.

(j) a knowledge of contemporary issues

Good: this responsibility falls on the student. The school provides free newspapers and there are good source of information on the internet to keep up with the world.

(k) an ability to use the techniques, skills, and modern engineering tools necessary for engineering practice.

Good: the school career initiatives are very well equipped to provide the willing student with an opportunity to use his engineering skills in the workforce.

After looking closely at each goal, I believe that I’ve identified the areas where I need improvement. I encourage you (specially if you’re an engineer) to do the same.

What areas do you believe need improvement? How well does your curriculum help you to achieve these goals? What can you do to ensure that all these goals are met?

Becoming a T-Shape Person: The Engineer’s Problem

Originally published on Veni Vidi Vici (portfolio site) on Jan 3, 2011


In a presentation about entrepreneurship, the dean of the College of Science Gregory Crawford, PhD emphasized the need for today’s undergraduate to be a well-rounded person, to be a “t-shaped person.” What is a “t-shape person?” Glad you asked. While Webster does not have a formal definition, a t-shaped person refers to an individual who is an expert, a master, in his main areas of studies but also is “fluent” in other areas. For a science or engineer student, it means being “fluent” in the humanities. For the humanities students, it means being “fluent” in the sciences. The reason for such needs is — to paraphrase him — that the world does not need a jack of all trades and master of none. The need to be a well-rounded student was not only emphasized by Crawford, but also by professors in my Introduction to Engineering class. This suggests that the traditional idea of double majoring as a way of becoming a jack of all trade is not as relevant as people think. The former statement is probably heavily biased because I am a believer of the gospel by Cal Newport, a professor who maintains the most popular student advice blog on the web Study Hacks. His blog and this particular article “How Double Majors Can Ruin Your Life: Two Arguments for Doing Less” (1), have shaped my belief in pursuing only one major.

With the needs of the world rapidly changing, I could not agree more with the dean and my engineering professors on being a well-rounded person. Unfortunately, as an engineer the opportunities to become a t-shape person are more restricted than you’d think. I discovered during my meeting with my counselor that, as an engineer, I have no leg room to pursue some of my interest within the normal curriculum. It is with regret that I accepted that a French class or a design class won’t make it on my schedule despite my strong interest in taking one. For me to be able to take a drawing a class this semester, I would have either to drop engineering as a major, or be on the dean’s list and write a proposal explaining why I should be able to take more than the maximum credit hours allowed by the university. None of these options were acceptable to me. My interest in engineering, although not set in stone, is one that I had since I was in fifth grade when I got my first soldering iron and repaired some old speakers. The second option, making the dean’s list, was not achieved because I did not put the work required to be on the list.

The Engineer’s Dilemma

        The engineer student at Notre Dame is faced with a tough curriculum. The program is rigorous to the point where a junior in Chemical engineering told me, “it is okay for you to have bad grades; you’re an engineer.” I felt offended and scared at the same time. Did she believe that I could not perform and get good grades? How hard must the program be for someone who goes to Notre Dame to tell you that underperforming is a norm? These questions engaged me to evaluate the courses ahead of me.  As an aspiring electrical engineer, here is the schedule ahead for me:



Screen capture of tentative electrical engineer schedule

Here is a detailed and personalized version of my tentative schedule:

Sophomore Year Junior Year Senior Year
1st semester    
Calculus III
Differential Equations Senior Design I
General Physics II
Signal and system I
Electrical Engineering Elective
C/C++ programming Semiconductor I
Electrical Engineering Elective
Introduction to Electrical engineering Electromagnetic Fields and Waves I
Engineering Science Elective
Philosophy (University requirement) Theology Fine Art (University requirement)
2nd semester    
Introduction to Linear Algebra and Differential equations Random Phenomena in EE Senior Design II
General Physics III
Electrical Engineering Elective Electrical Engineering Elective
Electronics I
Electrical Engineering Elective Electrical Engineering Elective
Electric circuits Technical Elective Technical Elective
Logic Design Theology (University requirement) History (University Requirement)

 

Each semester is filled with the maximum five classes per semester allowed, and my elective credits are filled with university requirements. It’s visibly impossible to double major, minor, or get a supplemental major with and Engineering degree at Notre Dame within four year. With no room to become a t-shape person in the curriculum, how is an engineer supposed to become “fluent” in the humanities?

Are Extracurricular Activities a Possible Solution? Maybe

The only way to develop the characteristics of a t-shape person is via extracurricular activities as Crawford suggested. The dean of the college of science pointed that, since time is extremely limited, the aspiring engineer has to choose his extracurricular carefully. Long gone are the days when students join organizations for the sake of “pimping out” the résumé. This is not high school anymore. This is college. With more than 200 student organizations, there is something out there for everyone at Notre Dame.

Although I agree that joining clubs is a great way to become a t-shape person, the experience is not the same as the one you get in a traditional classroom. Going to a weekly meeting to talk about organizing events, or running a concession stand does not exactly quench my thirst for knowledge. Also, the groups that the professors advise you to join are related to field of study. You’re not becoming more “fluent” in the humanities, you’re just gaining another perspective of you r current field. This is not bad at all, but it does not fully accomplish the mission of becoming a t-shape person.

So, how can you get the classroom experience outside the classroom? I don’t know…yet. My plan is to experiment, try different ideas to see how I can achieve just that; and hopefully during the process, I’ll become a t-shape person.

Just Blog Already!

I’ve been really slow at posting new things on the blog because I was not sure of what I should make of it.
The idea of the blog came about three semesters ago in my composition class. I thought it would (and actually still is) a way to improve my writing, and also help me make sense of all the information that I accumulate. However when it came to writing posts, I got stuck. I was afraid that it would be too broad, or too self-centered and that my post would not provide value to people other than me. While these beliefs may be true, I’ve come to accept that there is nothing wrong with each one of them.
Part of a scholar’s journey is to explore his broad interests. There are a multitude of topics to learn and you can only gage your interest by actively interacting with the material. If that means blogging about the state of the US workplace or some business concept that I’ll never step in the classroom for, then be it.
Another part of a scholar’s journey is self discovery. While topic exploration is part of it, introspection is an even bigger part. Introspection by nature is very selfish. In all my processes of introspection, I’ve actively made sure to make it only about me and how everything around me fit in the fabric that is my life. If that means I must reduce the focus that I pay to others, then be it. Another’s person introspection is not a bad thing to explore. There is value in knowing how others have dealt with particular situations. If such weren’t the case, autobiographies would be partially worthless.
Adding value is also a critical component of a scholar’s journey. Adding value is a way to achieve self-actualization. By adding knowledge to the world or giving an opinion that inspires or a perspective that changes people’s mind, you are doing something for more than yourself. However, I realized that this is not guaranteed for each blog post. It is not assured that you’ll change the point of view of every reader or that sharing your perspective will give them an aha moment. It will be hit and miss for each post written.
So given that a scholar’s journey is one of exploration, self discovery and that adding value is a hit or miss, why should I worry about making this blog as focused as I can when I am not sure of what I should focus on? There are many answers to this question but none that should stop me from writing about topics that I care about. I will let this blog grow naturally into what it should become: a companion to my messy search for knowledge that I find useful, a place to explore topics that interest me, and a place for you to see whatever comes from my CPU to your screen.