Deirdre Hunter knew that she wanted to do something that blended her love of engineering with her passion for inspiring students—but she had no idea the right job would come along quite so quickly in her career. She earned a Ph.D. in engineering education from Virginia Tech in 2015, and was working in Mexico at a non-profit when she saw the lecturer position at Rice, in the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen.
“I’m originally from Houston, and this position was everything I love and have trained to do,” she said. “Of course, I knew Rice’s reputation, and this just felt right. My first day in class, everyone was so welcoming.”
Hunter’s undergraduate degree is in mechanical engineering, and she was originally planning on getting a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering. Along the way, she started seeing how some students can actually be what she calls “de-motivated” in their studies.
“My research showed that they wanted to be participants in their own education, but it felt to them more like their education was happening to them, not that they had ownership in the process.”
That motivated her to look at how the process could be transformed, and she’s enthusiastic that Rice has been committed to the very things that help students not only learn better, but also learn a variety of skills beyond the technical aspects of engineering. This semester, Hunter is co-teaching ENGI 120, the freshman design course. She will be developing a new course for the engineering design minor, ENGI 350: Project Identification and Implementation, and she will work with Dr. Matthew Wettergreen to revise the 3D Visualization class.
“When students get to work on design projects, they’re not just practicing what’s in a text book. They see that engineering has a real connection to making people’s lives better,” said Hunter. “And here at Rice, through the OEDK, they get to work with clients, on authentic problems. All of that helps the whole process of learning engineering jive together.”
In addition to her teaching, she’s looking forward to increasing student access to some of the Kitchen’s electronic components. Both Texas Instruments and National Instruments have donated equipment to the OEDK, and Hunter wants more students to use it.
Hunter said she’s excited about what the future holds for Rice engineering students, both in the classroom and in the real world.
“It’s such a bright spot for me to see young people engaged in learning,” she said. “And it’s inspiring to see them look at all the ways they can change the world.”