Knitting and engineering are interwoven
Junior chemical engineering major Gabrielle Lencioni started knitting when she was in the second grade, after finding a how-to-knit kit at her school book fair. The first thing she made was an uneven square. Then, a scarf.
Now she’s teaching fellow Rice students how to knit and purl, in a residential college class called “Knits and Pieces.” She learned about the class as a freshman, and knew she wanted to be involved with it. At first, she just wanted to sit in and be a student, but when she found out the class had ended, she wanted to take ownership of it.
“It’s great to be bringing the class back,” she said. “After my freshman year, the woman who taught it graduated, so we didn’t have the class last year. We have 17 people signed up, and my best friend, a fellow chemical engineer who also knits, has become my unofficial TA.”
Lencioni said the class has knitters of all levels in it, from those who’ve never seen — let alone picked up — a pair of knitting needles, to those who have more expertise. She likes being able to work with new knitters on their technique, and that the class makes her set aside time in her own schedule to knit.
“Knitting has such a design component to it,” she said. “Growing up, I’d make toys, and you need to be able to think about how the individual pieces should look, and work your way through the rows to shape it and make it happen.”
That kind of problem solving is also what drew her to engineering. Growing up in Corpus Christi, her father sometimes took her with him to the refinery where he worked. (He now works on a pipeline in Minnesota). Because she was more attracted to chemistry than physics, she decided to major in chemical engineering. Over the summer, she was a process engineering intern at Covestro, a company that produces plastics and foam, in the organization’s production division.
“My office was in the middle of a large unit factory, and I loved that. It felt like I was in the center of the action.”
She hopes someday to work in a chemical plant.
Her engineering experience has come in handy in her knitting — and vice versa.
“I like solving problems. One of the challenges to teaching the class is figuring out what a student has done wrong. You can see it, that the stiches aren’t right or something doesn’t look like it should. But you have to work backward to find the root cause so you can correct it. And that’s what you do in engineering, too.”
Teaching the class has given her a new appreciation for the time that goes into curriculum building.
“I first had to think about the different learning styles each student has and then build Powerpoints that would help these different styles,” she said, offering a shout-out to her professors. “I also had to balance the time required outside of class each week with the depth of instruction I could achieve. On the first day, I realized that the students learned at different speeds, and I had misjudged how quickly a 60 minute class goes by.
Lencioni said that leading the class has been the most intimidating thing she’s done at Rice, and she feels tremendous pressure to give clear instructions in class. She worries some might thing it’s a waste of time. But her goal is to provide a session where students can leave with a feeling of, “I got this.”
“Running a classroom has been one of my biggest challenges at Rice, but I feel like each week is an opportunity to go outside my comfort zone and improve on my communication skills,” she said.
She also said it has been rewarding to watch the students in her class grow in their own techniques and confidence, and thinks the class provides a calm place amid Rice’s intense student experience.
“I knitted a lot more when I was younger,” she said. “You get so busy, you forget you need some time for yourself. This class gives us that — and it’s always fun to watch something you’ve made take shape.”
Other engineers who are teaching residential college classes include:
Melinda Crane, senior, CS
Visual Novel Analysis
Ian Frankel, junior, MECH
Eric Pan, senior, MSNE
Philosophy of Coffee
Nishant Verma, junior, BIOE