Passport to a Major

Feb 26 2013 | By Melanie A. Farmer | Passport to SEAS gave students a chance to explore several different majors through lab tours, faculty presentations, and hands-on activities.

Like many first-year engineering students, Sanjana Dhali has yet to decide on a major. Some already know well before the deadline, which is the middle of sophomore year, but others, like Dhali, are still on the fence and could use help deciding.

Watch this video to learn about Passport to SEAS.

The Passport to SEAS event, held February 22 for first-year undergraduates, served as the sounding board for those who need it. In effect, an “All-Mudd Open House” Passport to SEAS gave students a chance to explore several different majors through lab tours, faculty presentations, and hands-on activities and experiments led by professors and their upper-class students. Each of the nine departments was represented, along with several labs, including the Carleton Lab, plasma physics, and bone bioengineering.

Dhali, who attended Assistant Professor Kristin Myers’s presentation on mechanical engineering, said she walked away from it with concrete examples of the types of career paths one can choose with a mechanical engineering degree.

“I really like mechanical, but don’t know if I want to major in electrical engineering or mechanical. This [presentation] helps me see the difference between the two and what jobs I could do with a mechanical engineering degree,” said Dhali.

Several demonstrations took place during the three-hour “open house,” including bridge building using straw and paper clips, a trip through the virtual world, and measuring your electrocardiogram using a real-time display/alarm linked to your heartbeat.

Students curious about computer science watched how Assistant Professor Changxi Zheng integrates algorithms to develop audio analogs of sounds such as glass breaking and the multiple levels of sounds created by a Rube Goldberg Machine. Those interested in electrical engineering were treated to a demonstration by electrical engineering seniors, who displayed a novel audio transmission device using a laser pointer, CD player, and solar cell. In Professor Steven Feiner’s lab, potential computer science majors got to experience how head-worn and handheld mobile augmented reality devices can be used in maintenance instruction, set design, and collaborative games.

The School’s Office of Undergraduate Student Affairs and Global Programs was the lead sponsor of the event, along with the Center for Student Advising and Center for Career Education. Passport to SEAS is part of an ongoing effort by the School to introduce students to the different fields of engineering.

“We wanted to give students a better understanding of the different majors and what these majors might allow them to do professionally,” said Leora Brovman, assistant dean of undergraduate student affairs and global programs. “I hope that those students who attended were able to learn something new about a field they might not previously have considered within engineering, and I hope that when students have to declare their major, they will think back to something that they saw or heard during Passport to SEAS that will encourage them to feel confident in their chosen major.”

This may have been the case for Elizabeth Dente, a freshman who is “pretty much set on biomed” but may now look into the mechanical engineering curriculum after sitting in on that presentation. “I liked how [Myers] related mechanics to biology,” she said.

Passport to SEAS capped off the School’s annual Engineering Week, a series of events, co-sponsored by the Engineering Student Council, open to students campus wide interested in learning more about engineering. The week included socials and presentations hosted by the National Society of Black Engineers, Engineers Without Borders, and the Society of Women Engineers.