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Enlightenment On Engineering

Enlightenment On EngineeringTufts graduate and former engineering dean Ioannis Miaoulis, now director of Boston's Museum of Science, recently urged students to marvel at the creations of man.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [06.13.05] While a professor and dean in the School of Engineering at Tufts, Ioannis Miaoulis (E'83, '86, '87) used creativity and innovation to enhance the educational experience for future engineers. As directorof Boston's Museum of Science, he is employing many of the same practices and themes in trying to expose kids and adults alike to the wonders of engineering.

"We need to understand how the human-made world functions," he said at a recent Math/Science Education Coalition event hosted by Rhode Island Governor Don Carcieri, the Providence Journal reported.

The goal of the coalition is to improve math and science education for Rhode Island's students. While still dean at Tufts, Miaoulis spearheaded the campaign to have science and engineering standards appear on the state's education test, the MCAS. Now, according to the Journal, 25 percent of MCAS science tests are devoted to engineering.

In his talk, Miaoulis encouraged attendees to consider the importance of engineering by envisioning a world without man-made things.

"Imagine the chairs gone, the tables gone. . . . And what have you? Well, we would all be naked in the fields, running away from the tiger," he told the group, according to the Journal. "So when we teach science, why do we only teach about the natural world?"

Miaoulis says that while becoming computer-literate is important, becoming engineering-literate is perhaps even more critical.

"People think computers are technology, but computers are only a tiny part. When I first came to this country, I was surprised to know how little people know about how their world is made," the Greek national explained, according to the Journal.

While dean at Tufts, Miaoulis addressed the problem of engineering students dropping out to pursue the liberal arts.

"We found them and asked why they'd left. They said: we didn't find any engineering. Of course they hadn't taken any engineering because they were only taking math and physics," the newspaper quoted Miaoulis as saying. "Eventually, we had more students transferring in from liberal arts to engineering."

In his talk, Miaoulis described the teaching approaches he used at Tufts to convey the essential principles of engineering to his students.

"I created a fluid mechanics course from the point of view of the fish," he said, according to the Journal. "In another class, we were looking at heat transfer. To make a shield on a rocket not melt is the same formula as not burning the roast beef. We cooked roast beef so they could see that monitoring the function of cooking beef was pretty much the same as sending up a rocket."

In his talk, the Journal reported, Miaoulis emphasized that people of any age can be engineers if they have a desire to make things work. The raison d'Ítre for engineers is, essentially, to be practical.

"Engineers think about a need," Miaoulis said.

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