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Inspiring Tomorrow's Engineers

Inspiring Tomorrow's EngineersRecognizing his innovative approach to engaging students in engineering research, Tufts’ Chris Rogers will be awarded the National Science Foundation’s highest teaching honor. Medford/Somerville, Mass.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [05.12.03] Using robotic LEGOS, Steinway pianos and reduced gravity environments, Tufts professor Chris Rogers has built a career around using innovative approaches to engage students in engineering. Last week his efforts received a major boost from the National Science Foundation, which awarded Rogers its highest honor for excellence in teaching and research as well as a major grant to continue his work.

"The National Science Foundation named [Rogers as one of the] six recipients of its 2003 Distinguished Teaching Scholars awards," reported the Chronicle of Higher Education. "The awards recognize the scholars' achievements in linking scientific research with education and support their plans to continue that work."

A mechanical engineering professor at Tufts' School of Engineering, Rogers is internationally known for his Robolab program, which uses LEGO robotics to bring engineering concepts and education to students from kindergarten through college.

Students from Oregon to New Zealand are using Roger's Robolab tools in their science and engineering curriculums. Even first-year engineering students at Tufts use the high powered Robolab software to put their advanced engineering concepts to use.

"[Rogers] says students enrolling for engineering degrees at Tufts are quickly introduced to Robolab as a means of helping put their early-stage maths and science studies into engineering context," reported an article that appeared in the Financial Times. "Dr. Rogers runs weekly classes where the undergraduates are challenged to build sophisticated animated models."

Once they work with Rogers, many Tufts engineering students head back to elementary and secondary school classrooms to help future engineers form a solid foundation in science.

"Chris Rogers represents what is great about Tufts University faculty," said Tufts Provost and Senior Vice President Jamshed Bharucha. "His passion for research is matched only by his dedication to educating his students. His teaching is innovative, exciting and transformative."

The National Science Foundation agreed.

"[Faculty like Rogers] are the ones who show undergraduate students that scientists are made, not born," said National Science Foundation assistant director Judith Ramaley. "They're pulling back the curtain of science with imaginative, informative and insightful practices and projects that make the opportunity of experiencing science accessible to all students."

Each of this year's Distinguished Teaching Scholars will receive a $300,000 grant to help them continue their work.

Rogers, a former Fulbright Scholar who was named Massachusetts Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation in 1998, has a knack for engaging students through unique in-class experiments.

Just a few years ago, the Wall Street Journal profiled his popular courses on the engineering of musical instruments. To discover the effects of climate on pianos and trumpets, Rogers' students subjected the instruments to extreme temperatures and humidity.

"We're looking at the finer stuff, like you're sitting down and playing Tanglewood and the temperature jumps by a number of degrees," Dr. Rogers told the Journal. "How much harder or lighter does the hammer hit the string?"

It's part of a process to link hard science with everyday life. And, as Rogers points out, it's a great way to engage students from all backgrounds in science and engineering.

"Why not give all students open-ended questions, so they can experience the thrill of discovery and understand how to apply both the mathematical and experimental tools they are learning?" Rogers asked.


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