Evaluating Grant Proposals for the European Commission

This past Sunday night, I hopped on the Eurostar from London St. Pancreas–and in just over two hours I disembarked at Midi station in Brussels. I love that Chunnel!

I’ve spent the week working alongside other experts from around Europe to evaluate projects proposed for funding. This is an activity I am doing to develop more skills with regard to grant writing and program design.

img_2058

Aongus took the underground over to St. Pancreas Sunday night, to see me off as I boarded the Eurostar.

This is a job that requires a great deal of concentration. We’ve each been working for weeks–studying 30-page proposals, 7-8 of them per expert,  and then creating very detailed individual reports, comparing and compiling these into group reports, and then meeting face-to-face on-site in Brussels to discuss each proposal in depth. The scores we assign will be used to determine which organizations will receive funds to support doctoral and post-doctoral researchers.

 

Through this process, the European Commission and its Research Executive Agency (REA) provide detailed, specific feedback to applicants as well as numeric scores.

Many applicants succeed and receive financial support, but I’ll admit that with the sums provided, competition is fierce.

I believe this funding is well spent. It builds the capacity of researchers to do great work and learn important new skills. It yields results that make life and systems better at the individual, organizational, national, regional, and international levels. It produces valuable research results in a vast array of fields and disciplines.

The evaluation process is extremely important. It has to be done with extreme care. It is a huge amount of work, and the experts involved take the job very seriously.

img_2069

The evaluation itself is confidential, but pictures of Brussels I can share. 🙂

Many dozen experts have been involved this week, as reviewers and quality control officers. Our purpose is to deliver accurate and reliable results.

 

As a scholar from the States, I particularly value the feedback given to applicants in this process. Great care is taken to keep the scoring open, transparent, and fair, and to yield consistency from year to year as well as between proposals.

It’s a tight-knit process with a demanding timetable. And we’ve done remarkably well at staying focused and on track.

Why do I see the results of this process as valuable? In the U.S., fellowship and grant applicants rarely get feedback. I suspect it’s a result of the litigious nature of “American” society that funding agencies don’t want to open themselves up to questioning, and they won’t let applicants know what was seen as weak about the proposal. They will provide only very general feedback if any at all. I’ve had this experience with at least three different funding agencies in the USA. It was exceedingly frustrating and turned me off from wanting to keep bashing my head against a rock (even though I had a relatively high level of success winning grants for educational/learning sciences!).

img_2132

The plaza next to the building where evaluations are conducted.

Working here at REA, our primary focus is on achieving accurate scores that can hold water. There’s much less paranoia on the part of the funders, in my opinion. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be the same fear of redress–in the case of any mistake, the program managers actually do want to address it in a way that is fair to the applicant. Transparency and proper channels for redress/appeal are foundational principles of the programs that REA funds.

 

Because REA’s process provides reliable feedback, I myself was able to improve one past proposal that wasn’t successful on its first submission. I was able to learn and to re-submit. By addressing the points raised in the first evaluation, I was able to secure funding the second time around!

In the United States, I’d have been left in the dark, making the same mistakes over and over again. In my experience (having submitted 3 unsuccessful proposals, 2 successful proposals, and one pending proposal to various  MSCA programs evaluated via REA), the European evaluation system is FAR better than the US system. A knowledgable colleague told me yesterday that the overhead costs for evaluating and managing/overseeing the quality of these MSCA programs is lower than typical of other similar programs worldwide.

img_2111

Dinner at Lyon!

I can’t say this work is pleasurable, but I do enjoy being here, working hard, and feeling satisfaction by week’s end. It’s sometimes bittersweet, though, as it is Thanskgiving and, also, yesterday would have been Dad’s 74th birthday. He died five weeks ago, right after my assignments for this job arrived. Therefore, I didn’t get to talk with him yesterday. And, since this particular review always falls on Thanksgiving week, I’m spending my fourth Thanksgiving Day in Brussels, missing turkey in the States with family yet again.

 

In the evenings of this evaluation week, however, I do enjoy dinner out with other experts and my walks through the city to the Grand Place and the Royal Arcade. Hopefully tonight, the Christmas Market will be up and running! It’s 6:40PM so I need to get going and pack up my things for the night.

On Monday night I went out and I got to enjoy Moules et Frites at Lyon.

If you are capable and interested in serving as an expert evaluator, you can set up a personal profile in the Participant Portal (see instructions at https://ec.europa.eu/research/participants/docs/h2020-funding-guide/experts/experts_en.htm). When REA needs your expertise, they may well send you an invitation to serve.

 

Meet emerging research star: Carlos Mora

img_7518

Carlos and his youngest daughter, Estela.

Back in March 2019, I received an email out of the blue regarding a researcher in the Canary Islands, Dr. Carlos Efrén Mora, looking to recruit a mentor.

Specifically, Carlos wanted help writing a fellowship proposal to conduct Engineering Education Research on social responsibility, and he had contacted a Special Interest Group I work with as a member of the European Society for Engineering Education (SEFI). This particular group studies Educational Research Methods and I’d mentioned at a meeting in 2018 that I was looking to help/host prospective fellows in Engineering Education Research.

Because Carlos was proposing a topic I have been studying for Engineers without Borders UK, I jumped at the chance to help. I emailed him right away and we set to work.

Carlos emailed me a copy of a proposal he’d previously submitted, and as I’ve successfully secured the funding under this scheme twice before, I reverted with more feedback and strategic advice.

Carlos and I worked tirelessly from March until the deadline for our target program in mid-September.

It was a grueling process, but Carlos is extremely hard-working. I must say that Carlos enthusiastically accepted every ounce of critique that I and my colleagues doled out, and he used it to improve his plans and ideas. The ability to welcome criticism is rare but so very important. It’s one of the most important skills I learned in architecture school! Carlos has it, too!

To make sure Carlos had the best chance to win funding, I assembled a team of superstar researchers and advisors. Their job: to poke holes in all his arguments and make sure the content was in the right places (ie, the places the evaluators will expect to find them while they are scoring his work).

I was elated with the results. In all, I believe we have an excellent chance of receiving funding to conduct research together–I as his mentor/supervisor/PI and he as a full-time research fellow working aside me at TU Dublin, hopefully starting in August 2020.

The text of the proposal is exceptional. The scientific merit is clear, the work plan is strong, the planned secondment is second to none, and the early-stage researcher has shown outstanding promise. He has a dedicated mentor by his side–one who is working hard to build her own research record and raise the visibility and credibility of EER globally.

Since we submitted in mid-September, Carlos has already secured some financial support from his own university to start some of the work.

img_7484

Visiting London’s Carnaby Street with the Mora family

Though al that is exciting, we are currently in the no-mans-land called the grant evaluation period. Researchers work for months on end to craft a research proposal. They send it off with the greatest of hope in their hearts. And then they wait and wait, and wait–often at least half a year–to hear back.

Typical success rates for the program we’ve requested run 9-14%.

What to do while waiting? Celebrate!

After we got the proposal submitted, Carlos brought his family up to London from the Canaries to meet me. Carlos and I held a work meeting on the first day of their stay.

This was the first trip off their Islands for the Mora kids, and I was delighted to be part of their big adventure. (The whole family has been getting excited about the possibility of spending a couple years in Dublin! They came to London this time since it’s where I am currently working.)

img_7544

Pre-dinner photo shoot. Beautiful food!

I planned one of the four days of their visit, and, as usual, I packed too much in. We all did new things–I’d never eaten Ramen before but Celia said it would be “a dream come true” so we all agreed!

Our lively chatter silenced when the food arrived for dinner.

We soon unanimously agreed again: we will be eating Ramen together again in Dublin ASAP. It was delicious!

The photo album below starts with a photo from the Canaries and another taken at the airport–Carlos sends me family updates regularly and it’s fun seeing the kids grow!

 

 

Wedding Weekend with Nigerian-British Flair

Engagement photo of Folashade and Damilola.

My beautiful and intelligent colleague, Dr. Folashade Olayinka (who I traveled to Johannesburg with 1.5 years ago to teach a Master Class) decided to marry her beloved Dr. Damilola Olaniyi last weekend, so on Saturday, November 9, 2019, I headed for the Putney Bridge tube bright and early. It was a cold day, but bright and full of energy.

My own beloved Aongus walked me to the station. Even though the invite was just for one, he wanted to set me off on the right course for the weekend.

At Liverpool Street Station, I met up with my best Plus-None, Dr. Inês Direito, and we head off for Chelmsford by train, excited for a new adventure.

When we arrived in Chelmsford, our room wasn’t quite ready at The County Hotel, but we found space to change into wedding attire–with “Colours of the day” specified as “Emerald Green & Gold” we did our best not to clash!

We taxied from the Hotel over to All Saints Church on Church Lane, Writtle, Chelmsford CM1 3EN, UK for the Church of England ceremony, held in a historic venue and officiated by a pastor who delivered an informative lesson on love, and in quite an interesting way.

img_1121

The Nyamapfenes, Abel and Tari, with Inês and me at the church.

Our colleague Dr. Abel Nyamapfene had already arrived with his lovely wife, Tari.

Inês and I had a ball getting to know her. Considering we arrived at 12:20 and the bride marched down the aisle at 1:40, we had ample time to get to know each other–and I assure you we had a delightful time doing that in such a lovely and lively setting. I look forward to seeing Tari again some day.

During the ceremony, from my seat along the outer wall of the side nave, I was able to see the exchange of vows. I had never realized quite how much Neo-Gothic columns limit paritioners’ viewing angles. Thanks to my colleague Dr. Fiona Truscott, and the book she lent me on English architecture, “A Lust for Windowsills” by Harry Mount, I was able to discern that this church is, specifically, “perpendicular Gothic“. A nice treat to be in such a space for a celebration of marriage! I recognized the last song and happily sang along, despite being chronically out-of-tune.

Hylands House, the reception venue. (Photo copied from the couple’s wedding page.)

The reception was held at the beautiful and elegant Hylands House on London Road, Writtle, Chelmsford CM2 8WQ, UK.

 

Graduation pic of Dami and Shade. Doctors of Engineering!

At the reception, we learned many things, and we got to watch video of the wedding ceremony the couple had in Nigeria (prior to this ceremony here in England). Incidentally, the newlyweds were both born here in Britain, of parents born in Nigeria. They have lived here all their lives, but visit Nigeria frequently. I sometimes say Shade is the most British person I know!

During the toasts, we learned that Shade was born at University College London (UCL) Hospital, on the campus where she and I worked together until she moved to Queen Mary University of London. She completed all her higher education degrees at UCL. Her new husband, Dami, also earned his doctorate in engineering at UCL. In fact, the two met at UCL in 2011. Their subjects are slightly different, however, as Shade has a doctorate in Chemical engineer, while I believe Dami’s doctorate is in aeronautical engineering.

img_1147

The newlyweds

During the meal, Inês and I had the pleasure of sharing a table with the PhD supervisor for each of the two. Shade’s supervisor, Professor/Dr. Eva Sorenson had attended the SEFI 2018 conference with Inês and me in Copenhagen and I sat beside her at the gala of that event, just after she’d been recognized with the biggest award of the conference. I’m getting used to siting among the stars!

Both supervisors got specific call-outs from the couple and the family during toasts–how cool! It looks like you can make a real difference in someone’s life as their PhD supervisor. I hope that’s me someday. (My first PhD supervisee just passed the final threshold before his PhD viva, slated for August 2020–very excited about all that!)

Following dinner, a grand Nigerian buffet, we enjoyed cake and some dancing.

Eventually we headed by taxi for the hotel for some Zs.

 

 

img_1174

With Emanuela and family!

In the morning, we enjoyed breakfast with the happy couple and another of our beloved colleagues, Emanuela Tilley (who is currently away form us on maternity leave) along with her beautiful and energetic family. I get far too little time with Emanuela these days! Making every moment count here in England.

 

In the morning, we enjoyed breakfast with the happy couple and another of our beloved colleagues, Emanuela Tilley (who is currently away form us on maternity leave) along with her beautiful and energetic family. I get far too little time with Emanuela these days! Making every moment count here in England.

After a quick walk to the station and an easy train trip back to London, I made my way back to Putney to meet up with Aongus, who’d had to work Sunday, morning until noon.

img_1199

Flowers!

I arrived at the flat first, and when Aongus arrived he brought a lovely bouquet for me! I was delighted to find I’d been missed by this incredible man. It’s a pleasure to be surrounded with so much love and support.

Thanks so very much to Shade and Dami for including Inês and me in this–the biggest day of your lives. You make a lovely couple and you seem so comfortable and happy together. Your families seem so warm and supportive, and it looks like they provide great models for healthy interactions and long-lasting love. Your ceremony was beautiful and touching. The bridal party was full of vitality and was beautifully attired (love those bridesmaid dresses!). The toasts were heartfelt. The venues were such a pleasure to experience. The dancing, rituals, and outfits had a distinctly Nigerian flair that was a treat to behold.

It was all so beautiful and festive! And we were so lucky to be there!

#DaSh2019, 9.11.19

Bringing my Dad back into Focus

Losing a parent is emotionally difficult as I’m discovering each and every day. Others who have lost someone close provide the strongest sense of empathy–they know what we are going through and they offer shoulders on which to lean.

I truly appreciate all those who have sent a message or note, flowers, donations.

Those who gave their presence in these difficult days and made thoughtful gestures now hold a very special place in my heart. Those who made the kind effort to join us for Dad’s visitation, funeral, or interment helped provide a sense of confidence that tomorrow will be happier.

Through this blog post, I am bringing my Dad back into focus, if only for a moment. I aim to record my memories before they vanish.

Memories of our Dad

My dad, Donald Massie, truly loved to learn. This he passed to my sister (Heather) and me.

IMG_0947

Dad with Heather and me.

Dad always said Heather and I should try hard in school, for ourselves, not for him. “Your education,” he’d say, “is the only thing no one can take away.” …Bette Midler says it’s your dignity, but that actually can be taken, I believe!

Dad taught Heather and me many things, including how to guide our own learning—how to identify goals, determine what we wanted to know, and figure out how to accomplish learning it. Dad didn’t do our projects for us, as Heather pointed out at his funeral, but he was always there to help.

Dad was an extremely curious person, and he demonstrated his love of learning from the very start. As a small child, he read the Encyclopedia Britannica. This set of books occupied an entire shelf at my grandparents’ house, in all the years they owned it.

IMG_6750-1

Christmas 2017 or 2018: Shannon, Aongus, Heather, Danny, Glen, Dad, and Kitty Lee.

Even before Dad could read, he’d pour over the pages, avoiding whatever he could from the illustrations, my aunt Kitty told us in Dad’s final days, as we three–Heather, Kitty and I–gathered around Dad’s bedside, supported by the phenomenal nursing staff at Showalter Center and end-of-life experts from Carillion Clinic Hospice. Those were precious days we had together, and a priceless gift provided by those caring medical experts. Showalter’s culinary and administrative folks worked with us and nursing to make the week we had there together full of love and laughter. Dad was truly funny in the moments he could communicate; it was clear he’d built rapport with staff of all ages and backgrounds, and some of the residents like Sharon who became a fast friend to us all. Many of them came to call in Dad’s final week, and Heather helped connect to family via phone and friends and former colleagues who came to visit.

But back to the story of Dad’s lust for learning: he particularly loved reading Popular Mechanics and Scientific American, and any flying magazine he could get his hands on!

Dad also loved trying things out for himself. We learned to learn by doing, just as he had.

At the age of two, he’d observed how a gear shift worked and he gave it a go himself. He climbed up in the driver’s seat of the family Jeep and kicked the manual transmission out of gear. The Jeep rolled down the hill, wrapping around a tree, totaled. He clung happily to the steering wheel.

He’d also as a toddler, we are told, remove the screws from the furniture with his bare hands—so curious was he about how the chairs and table were assembled.

Growing up in the family farm in Fishersville, Virginia, provided many adventures for a kid with curiosity. Dad observed how to use a flexible tube to siphon liquid from a barrel. “No,” the doctor told my grandma, “he isn’t sick,” just a little drunk! Evidentially, that barrel contained hard cider.

Dad wasn’t the only kid in the family stirring up trouble.

Dad’s brother, Phil, was a few years older than him. One day Phil tied Dad to a tree while playing cowboys and Indians. Unexpectedly invited into town by their dad, Phil disappeared. When Phil remembered about my Dad, tied up to that tree, Phil kept mum. No one wanted to earn the ire of my grandad.

Dad spent the day there, strung to that tree.

Their family moved off the farm and into the city of Staunton.

Dad had a newspaper delivery route and he got to know my mom’s brother while doing that job. Dad played clarinet in the school band. He made friends he kept until the very end.

In high school, he got drafted. He got a limited deferment. He married my mom; he hurriedly completed a Bachelor’s degree—starting in Engineering but having to wrap up quickly to meet the limits imposed by Uncle Sam and thus shifting to Business.

IMG_0567

Dad with a newborn, me!

He and Mom decided to have a child before he shipped out for Vietnam, and I was born while he was in boot camp.

My sister came along, like clockwork, not long after his return. There are two-and-one-half years between us. The four lives of my immediate family were indelibly marked by that (senseless) war, in so many ways. Night duty and Agent Orange were particularly treacherous. Of course, I’d wish the whole thing away if I could, but I also recognize that, without that bloody war, Heather and I would not exist.

IMG_0560

Dad at work in Vietnam–so handsome!

In Vietnam, Dad served as an illustrator. In formation, fresh off the plane to Vietnam, his group of recruits was asked if anyone could draw. Hearing no other volunteers, dad put up his hand. Those years studying engineering made a clear difference.

Eventually, he combine that Business degree and illustrating experience, extending it with a Masters in Fine Art gained upon his return using the GI Bill. He subsequently worked as a photographer for the state of Virginia and then supervised the graphics department at the Vet School until his retirement, after 30 years with Virginia Tech.

I have to mention that Dad was the type of parent with kids in tow: he encouraged us to participate in clubs (especially 4-H where we learned so very much), band, and sports. He didn’t volunteer to run these events. He never attended a PTA meeting.

But he was in our corner nonetheless, cheering us on during every performance and award ceremony—and for those there were many.

IMG_0530

I was the friady-cat!

During childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood, Heather and I spent many hours at Dad’s office—in the Annex during the 80s and the Vet School later on. We knew Dad’s colleagues well and we learned well from them. We were superbly advised and equipped for any art or photography project we could dream up. And dream we did.

I lived at home for university. Many lunchtimes during my Architecture studies were spent at the Ver School, surrounded by the professors and staff there–engaging in their enthusiastic lunch-time chat.

Many a night during my Bachelor’s and Master’s of Architecture programs were spent in the darkroom with Dad, rushing toward a deadline and/or creating photographic competition boards.

I adopted Dad’s drafting and jewelry equipment as my own. I learned 16mm film and to use 2.25 and 4×5 cameras. I passed on these skills, leading workshops and modules for Virginia Tech’s College of Architecture and Urban Studies across my years there.

Scan_20191019 (3)

Dad’s beloved Musketeer.

He took us and just about everyone we knew up flying. A particularly poignant memory is flying to the site I’d chosen for my Bachelor’s thesis project on Outer Banks of North Carolina. Two friends from architecture school came along, and we timed our landing, two hours out, so that we’d touch down at sunrise. What a glorious day we had, documenting and exploring the island, walking into its town from lunch, splashing in the waves.

The year before in my fourth year of architecture school, Dad and I had rolled up our sleeves and started building a two-seat airplane. We commenced this project in our living room. Dad, my sister, mom, and I had built this house for ourselves.

Soon, the project got too big and we had to construct a large greenhouse on the side of the house.

Dad kept working on that project after I’d completed two Architecture degrees and left town for employment, first in Switzerland (1996-1997) and then in Hampton Roads (1998-2014). Unfortunately, Dad was diagnosed with carcinoid cancer in 1997. It was slow-growing but took its toll nonetheless. The vets doing research on cancer helped dad determine the right dose of Vitamin C to take throughout the day to extend his life as long as it did. Dad beat it for 22 1/2 years beyond his diagnosis.

We never finished that plane-building project, but last spring we donated all it, along with the materials we purchased to help finish the project, to Bototeourt Vocational high school (BTEC). Here’s hoping they can finish it or at least learn from what we’ve done!

These memories–all these memories. I must keep them alive.

My sister also wrote a beautiful and sincere tribute to Dad, and I want to share it as well.

My sister’s tribute to Dad

Image may contain: 1 person, suit and closeup

Photo of Donald Rae Massie – high school senior photo

Donald Rae Massie, my daddy, the world is different without you.
I could always rely on you when I had a question about anything.
I always said that you knew everything. One of the sharpest people I have ever known. With a memory I can only dream of having.
And ready to crack a joke to the very last. You liked to laugh.

When I was a kid and you were watching 60 Minutes, you would yell “Andy Rooney” and I would run through the house, to sit with you and watch and laugh.
When Jay Leno would do Headlines, you would yell “Headlines” and I would run through the house, to sit with you and watch and laugh.
At Christmas when we would give someone in the family a Jeff Foxworthy book, we would all sit and read and laugh until we cried, tears of joy.
Thank you for the love you gave me for irony and for a good laugh.

You were always ready to lend a hand, to help, to teach, to share.

Any project Shannon or I worked on was made better by your advice, your lending of tools, and your guidance on how to use them. We have heard from so many others who have said the same.
We learned to use cameras, compose photographs, develop prints, build our house, use power tools, solve problems, love people of all cultures and backgrounds, and have become strong independent women

I recently learned something that makes me very proud. While you were not keen to fight in Vietnam, you did not try to avoid serving, as those who were able to do so were those who came from wealth and privilege, and those who could not were poor, less advantaged, or of color, and you chose to stand with them and to serve. I thank you for this, even though this service caused so many of the health problems which you so valiantly battled.

Thank you for the love you gave me for nature and beauty – sunsets and oceans and mountains and wildlife and for living.
Thank you for my love of science – of light, of stars, of geology, of space.
Thank you for my love of art – light, color, image, composition,
Thank you for my love of photography – observing, composing, capturing, creating.
Thank you for my love of music – listening, playing, singing, creating.
Thank you for my love of telling a good story – a love which serves me every time I step on stage to embody a character, or when I set out to write a play.
Thank you for my love of the written word, the spoken word.
Thank you for my love of flight, and the joy you gave so many by taking each of us with you soaring through the skies.

What shall I do without you?
But to hold those good parts of me that you gave me and to nurture them.

You wanted every single second of life that God would give you, and your strength was a testament to everyone who had the honor of helping you in your last days. It shall stand for me as a light and way forward to value every minute that I have in this life.

Painting by Donald Rae Massie (Copywrite Donald Rae Massie, all rights reserved by Shannon and Heather)

As noted in Dad’s obituary, we welcome contributions to Warm Hearth Foundations, please designate to the Showalter staff appreciation fund. If you send direct, you can make the designation. The mailing address is: The Village Center • 2387 Warm Hearth Drive • Blacksburg, VA 24060 • (540) 552-9176

My Dad’s Passing: A Testimonial for Donald Rae Massie

IMG_0536

My sweet father, Donald Rae Massie, 73, of Blacksburg, VA passed away peacefully on 18 October 2019, surrounded by his daughters and sister, following a lengthy battle with service-related ailments and cancer.

Don was born on 27 November 1945 in Staunton, VA, son of the late Lillian Forsyth and Layton McCarthy Massie. His early life was spent on the family’s farm in Fishersville, VA; he attended Staunton public schools. Don earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from Virginia Tech. Drafted into the military, he served at Ft. Lee, VA and then at USARV headquarters in Long Binh, Vietnam as a draftsman/illustrator. Later, Don earned a Master’s Degree in Art from Radford University. He was a gifted artist, taught photography at local colleges, reported New River Valley news for WSLS, and founded Massie Photography.

Don worked for Virginia Tech from 1979-2009, first as a staff photographer. His photographic images are part of the university’s archives today. He later served as Audio Visual Administrator at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, recording medical procedures sent throughout the state to educate practicing veterinarians on the latest techniques.

Beyond art, Don loved flying, reading, history, and airplane construction. He contributed generously to churches and charities. He always welcomed a chance to help others with their own art and photography projects. He found special joy in bringing people flying.

He is survived by two daughters, Shannon Chance (Aongus Coughlan) of Dublin, Ireland and Heather Massie (Dan Leary) of New York City, sister Kitty (Glen) Layman of Harrisonburg, VA, brother Phil (Linda) Massie of Brunswick, GA and many nieces, cousins and their families.

The family is deeply touched by the compassion of Showalter Center staff and Carillon Clinic Hospice. Contributions are welcome in lieu of flowers to Warm Hearth Foundation, designated to the Showalter employee appreciation fund. The mailing address is The Village Center • 2387 Warm Hearth Drive • Blacksburg, VA 24060 • (540) 552-9176.

The visitation for Don will be held at Horne Funeral Home in Christiansburg VA 5-7 PM on Tuesday, October 22 followed by a funeral service at 7 PM. Interment will be in Staunton, VA at Thornrose Cemetery on Thursday, October 24 at 11 AM.

Discovering Budapest with SEFI

Engineering teachers from all across Europe headed to Budapest last week for the annual SEFI conference to share state-of-the art research and cutting-edge teaching methods. SEFI is the European Society for Engineering Education and this was the fourth time I attended the group’s annual conference.

As the annual SEFI meeting is one of the most interesting, informative and welcoming conferences you can encounter, engineering teachers from many corners of the globe–notably Australia, China, and the USA– joined as well.  The conference program includes many workshops, paper presentations, keynote addresses and plenty of fun social events.

This year, I helped lead three workshops and one special interest group meeting. I’ve uploaded photos of the activities where I was most involved.

Physical Computing

Here’s a glimpse of the workshop on Physical Computing I helped organize and run with my colleagues from TU Dublin–Paula Hannon, Damon Berry, and Mick Core. The title was “Physical Computing: A low-cost project-based approach to engineering education” and our abstract explained “One of the current trends in engineering education, often due to costs, is to use simulation software for the design and analysis of systems. However, using simulation packages as an alternative to real-world equipment may lead to a lack of student engagement and confidence, thereby reducing the impact of learning. This workshop presents an alternative mode of module delivery that facilitates practice-based learning, where students get hands-on practical computing using inexpensive, yet real-world equipment and technologies that can help transform notional self-directed learning to actual learning. In this workshop, participants will discuss the philosophy, rationale, and techniques used to teach Physical Computing at one Technological University.”

Phenomenography

The workshop UCL hosted on phenomenography, taught by Mike Miminiris, with assistance from Inês Direito and me was well attended and we all learned new techniques:

Engineering Education Research group

Here are a few pics of the special interest group meeting on Engineering Education Research, led by the EER WG  coordinator Tinne De Laet:

Being an Effective Peer Reviewer

We also held a workshop on reviewing manuscripts for journals as an effective peer reviewer, lead alongside the editors-in-chief of three of the top journals in engineering education worldwide–Kristina Edström, Lisa Benson, and John Mitchell–along with deputy editors Maartje van den Bogaard and Jonte Bernhard, and associate editors Adam Carbury and myself:

The delegation from UCL

Here’s a set of photos of the UCL crew at SEFI, and some of the other presentations UCL folks made:

Fun and learning combined

And now for some entertaining pics–some of the conference in general, and others featuring the very fun gala abroad a river cruise and the post-conference city sightseeing tour led by local architects:

 

 

Fostering Inclusivity in Engineering Education in the South African Context

img_5642-1I spent the first week of July in South Africa, facilitating a two-day Master Class on “Fostering Inclusivity in Engineering Education in the South African Context” and then attending the Research in Engineering Education Symposium, REES 2019, which adopted the theme “Making Connections.” In this blog, I’ll tell you about the workshop and show you photos from the workshop and our travels to Cape Town, where my closest collegue, Inês, and I had a day to explore before heading out to the workshop location.

Fostering inclusivity in engineering education means creating learning environments that are welcoming to everyone, and where all members have equitable access to learning. We asked: How do we support the creation of inclusive environments for all engineering education stakeholders?

img_5752Our interactive Inclusivity workshop focused on supporting engineering educators wanting either to develop inclusive learning and teaching environments or to research the effectiveness of their interventions.

The workshop was facilitated by Shanali Govender from the University of Cape Town (UCT) alongside Inês Direito and myself from University College London (UCL). In addition, John Mitchell (from UCL) and Brandon Collier-Mills (from UTC) provided panel presentations and Mohohlo Tsoeu (UTC) was part of our planning sessions.

This was the eighth and last of a series of EEESCEP workshops. This one was held at Spier Wine Farm, Stellenbosch–a glorious place to visit even during South Africa’s winter!

img_5813-2Twenty-five engineering teachers from all over South Africa attended the workshop and the discussions were truly insightful.

As nervous as I had been leading up to the event–having visited South Africa previously to both study the history of Apartheid in the built environment and grow my understanding of the country’s tumultuous past–this workshop turned out amazingly well.

Participants came in with an endearing openness and desire to make engineering education more welcoming for all. They welcomed the facilitators warmly and openly as well. We all benefited from hearing new perspectives and giving serious thought to things we might do to improve the situation in engineering education, where white male norms predominate.

img_5831-1Drawing on participants’ own experiences with teaching and conducting research in engineering education, we encouraged participants to engage with contemporary and global issues related to inclusivity within engineering education and consider emerging research. Participants reflected upon their own practices and identified inclusivity aims and goals.

Discussions helped all of us identify barriers to inclusivity and develop ways to remove barriers in practice. A participant described the event this way:

The facilitators were excellent in their delivery of the doctrine of inclusivity to engender seeds for policy formulation, innovation, development and practice of engineering education in an ever-changing world.

It is worthy of note that the workshop has begun to provoke a silent revolution in teaching, learning, and research that will seek to enhance economic, social, scientific, infrastructural and holistic development of South Africa, and the world at large in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The discussion on Inclusivity seeped over into the REES activities, as many of the participants, facilitators, and presenters from the EEESCEP workshop continued on, from the workshop to REES, which started the day after our workshop ended. Being part of both events helped me build stronger ties to the engineering teachers in South Africa and I eagerly await more opportunities to work with them on projects.

Sightseeing in Cape Town

Inclusivity Master Class

Vivacious Vienna: Hundertwasser

I was an exchange student to Switzerland in 1994, and my first host “mom,” Esther Sterchi-Wyss, loved the architect Hundertwasser. I arrived at her home never having heard of the designer despite having more than six years of university-level architecture education.

Hundertwasser, you see, is self-made. A craftsman-turned-architect. His work wasn’t taught in modernist schools of architecture at the time, but he had certainly hit a chord with Esther, who had postcards and posters of his vibrant buildings posted in her Ferenberg kitchen.

It’s a bit odd not to have heard of him, as his work is in the same realm as Barcelona’s Gaudi, whose work I’d made pilgrimages to visit. Nevertheless, I had not.

While I was in Vienna this past February for the 2019 MCAA-General Assembly, I had the chance to visit three Hunderwasser creations.

It was just a brief encounter, but I enjoyed the joy and playfulness I found. And I finally understood Esther’s fascination. I hope you’ll enjoy seeing some of the images I collected during my brief visit.

Sites where you can see Hundertwasser’s work

Apartment block in Vienna

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Hunderwasser Village 

Kunsthaus Wein

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Vivacious Vienna: Exploring the City

During my February trip to Vienna for the MCAA General Assembly, I had the chance to look around the city center as well as some sectors not far from the center.

Vienna is an architect’s dreamland, full of beautiful spaces and artifacts old and new. In fact, the architect/urbanist/painter/historian Camillo Sitte documented many of the world’s most successful plazas in his quest to define what makes a public space beautiful. Many of his favorites plazas are located in Vienna. I often referenced his book “The Art of Building Cities”, published in 1945, when I was an architecture student and later an architecture professor.

Although I actually only had six hours to explore Vienna after the Assembly concluded, I took in plenty of sites. Below, I’ve posted my slide shows of spectacular architecture.

The slide shows start in Alservorstadt, with the Votive Church (Votivkirche), Hotel Regina, and University of Vienna. The slides proceed downtown and show visits to two more churches (Stephansdom and Der Graben), concluding with the Globe Museum. In other posts, I share photos from Hundertwasser and Otto Wagner ‘s Austria Post Headquarters or “Osterr Postparkasse” (blog forthcoming).

Votive Church (Votivkirche) 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Hotel Regina

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The University of Vienna

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Vienna City Center

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Stephansdom

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Der Graben

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Globe Museum

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

 

Learning London: Celebrating St. Patrick

We’ve had a lovely St. Patrick’s weekend here in central London.

Yesterday, we visited the National Portrait Gallery to see “Only Human” by photographer Martin Parr. After lunch at Chipotle, some gelato and hot chocolate to honour my dad, and a quick break at The Courthouse Hotel, we got to the Photographers’ Gallery for the last hour (for free entry!) to view a show I’d found don Time Out and another to boot.

We ended Saturday at Backyard Comedy with four hilarious comedians.

Our Art Fund pass and memberships with Tate and Backyard are really paying off!

We learned a lot this weekend about being British, thanks in no small part to Martin Parr. Here’s a selection of photos from yesterday:

Today, we breakfasted beside Whitechapel Gallery, walked to the Tower of London, took the boat down to Embankment and walked to Tate Britain. We visited two photographers’ exhibitions–seeing the second half of photojournalist Don McCullin’s show (we hadn’t allotted enough time in our first visit). Then we took a double decker bus over to Trafalgar Square, enjoyed lunch at Thai Spice, and took in the last hour of the city-sponsored St. Patrick’s Day music festival.

While it feels surreal to sing Irish Republican songs in Trafalgar Square, particularly because it’s not considered entirely kosher to sing such songs in Dublin these days, we truly felt our love for Ireland by singing along–without having to love London any less!

Ireland’s Call by Phil Coulter 

Come the day and come the hour

Come the power and the glory

We have come to answer Our Country’s call

From the four proud provinces of Ireland

CHORUS

Ireland, Ireland

Together standing tall

Shoulder to shoulder

We’ll answer Ireland’s call

From the mighty Glens of Antrim

From the rugged hills of Galway

From the walls of Limerick And Dublin Bay

From the four proud provinces of Ireland

CHORUS

Hearts of steel, and heads unbowing

Vowing never to be broken

We will fight, until We can fight no more

From the four proud provinces of Ireland

Aongus and I were making the most of our last day together for a while. I’m heading home to Virginia help my Dad who hasn’t been well.

We ended the day at the Blind Beggar, site of a notorious gang murder long ago (see the plaque for further explanation). I’d not been there before, despite it being just blocks from our London home.

Photos from today: