Working Hard, Playing Hard: London city models, maker spaces, and materials libraries

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Sums up the week.

Getting back on track after a vacation is always hectic. A road sign I passed today announcing “CHANGED PRIORITIES” summed up the ironies I’ve faced. My first week back (after a holiday in France and conferences in Denmark and Greece) has been a flurry of activity. I had to put a lot of time into recovering lost documents and preparing government applications, and that wasn’t expected. I anticipated being in Dublin this past week, but fate (and lost IDs) sent me in other directions.

Besides trying to make headway with research projects, file expense reports, get back into my gym routine and recover the plethora of bank and identification cards I lost in Greece, I did make time to meet colleagues and explore material libraries, maker labs, and the massive city model of London. The list below attests, though, that I actually got some “real work” done. I’m making progress despite the detours!

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With Dr. Anne Gardner, the new Deputy Editor of AAEE

Chronological highlights of the past ten days have been:

  • Quick catch-ups with both my supervisors, Profs. Nick Tyler and John Mitchell. John is the incoming Editor in Chief of IEEE Transactions on Education, so we had much to discuss.
  • Submitting two abstracts for the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) 2019 conference.
  • Providing input on a curriculum proposal under development at our Centre and module (course) planning for our new MSc in Engineering Education.
  • Lunching with guest academic, Prof. Euan Lindsay, of Australia’s Charles Sturt University and making with him a quick trip to the Building Centre’s exhibition on spatial modeling by Zaha Hadid’s lab and the giant model of London.
  • Touring UCL’s Institute of Making, its materials library and maker space.
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  • Thomas Empson’s fabulous RES2 presentation
  • Attending a dynamic, well-structured, and highly successful milestone presentation by my Ph.D. student, Thomas Empson of London South Bank University (LSBU). Delighted to have contributed to Thomas’ success.
  • Touring LSBU’s extensive maker labs (theater and cave for virtual reality, robotic arms, 3D printers using all sorts of materials, high-end laser cutters, and old-school lathes, milling machines, spray booths. Room after room after room. An amazing set of resources for the LSBU engineering community. I was astounded. They also have a small materials library.
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  • A product of LSBU’s extensive Maker Lab, this shell in the shape of a skull was printed in a liquid that contains emulsion and hardens when struck by a laser beam in the printer. Then the remaining liquid is drained away.
  • Lunching with guest academic, Prof. Anne Gardner, incoming Deputy Editor of the Australasian Journal of Engineering Education and another quick trip to visit the Building Centre.Gaining official approval from the UCL Ethics Committee to proceed with two research projects.
  • Completing UCL’s new online training program for data protection (GDPR), earning 100% on the final test.
  • Reading a UCL publication of guidelines for research staff. This is a very organized place!
  • Reading an incoming manuscript for the special focus journal issue and helping manage the review process.
  • Meeting with an expert in phenomenographical research methods, Dr. Mike Miminiris, to plan for an upcoming project.
  • Scheduling dates for upcoming seminars at UCL (by Dr. Mike Miminiris) and DIT (by Dr. Bill Williams).
  • Meeting with Prof. Simon Philbin, the new Director of LSBU’s Natu Puri Institute (NPI) to discuss strategic direction for the Institute.
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Aongus studying the London model

Over the weekend, I decided to bring Aongus to the Building Center because he hadn’t been yet. We spent most of Saturday with the model of London (using its interactive learning tools and the videos), taking a sneak peek at an exhibition being mounted on modular construction, visiting the special exhibit on the history of the Centre, viewing the Hadid exhibition (mentioned above), and learning about commercially-available building products and materials in the Centre’s massive product library.

That makes THREE materials libraries and TWO extensive maker labs visited in a week! All these are pictured in the photo gallery below.

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New global rankings from THE

I discovered that the new global rankings of universities, by the Times Higher Education, has placed UCL at 14th in the world. Each rating system uses different variables and metrics, so it’s not surprising that this is a bit different than the QS system that has UCL at 7th globally.

On Saturday and Sunday, we also made time to immerse ourselves in London–including the rainstorm on Saturday (oh my). Aongus and I enjoyed delectable meals, including dim sum at Dim T, my favorite fix at Chipotle, and molten cookies at Kingly Court. Saturday evening, we enjoyed the opening of the film “A Star is Born.” On Sunday, Aongus and I visited the Churchill War Rooms.

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Hot off the presses @Usborne #STEM “Engineering Scribble Book” for kids. Loved offering guidance as Eddie and Darran developed the content! @Centre4EngEdu @CREATE_DIT. A university bookstore outside London replied to comments on my Twitter feed. @cccubookstore said “Engineering Scribble Books will be in stock tomorrow. Science Scribble Book on publication in November ;-)”

So far this week, I’ve reviewed feedback I’ve collected from colleagues on three important documents I’m preparing. I spent the better part of a day re-vamping a manuscript to address reviewer comments.

Also this week, I enjoyed meeting a new Ph.D. student at UCL, Aristos, who is studying tidal energy and knows Greek–he has helped me contact the police station in Greece (still no word on my lost items). I had lunch one day with my officemate, Sital, and learned more about her family’s heritage. I meet online with the board of the Research on Engineering Education Network (REEN) planning the 2019 Symposium (REES 2019) to be held in Cape Town July 10-12, 2019. I also met online with Dr. Bill Williams to plan his upcoming lecture and workshop topics.

Ending on a high note yesterday, I received a fun package in the mail–a copy of a book I helped create for kids. I served as the “expert advisor” for Usborne Publisher on a publication called Usborne STEM “Engineering Scribble Book.” It’s the first in a series and it looks great!

With all these unanticipated adventures, I’m wondering if I, rather than fate, will help set my own priorities for the upcoming week. Probably not!

Visiting Professors in London

West End fun with Drs. Eddy and Pape

I’ve been visiting with Professors from the States the past few weeks here in London, and morphing into even more of a Visiting Professor myself!

Two weeks ago, Prof. Pam Eddy and her husband Dave arrived for a week-long visit. Pam was my PhD advisor at William and Mary and she has been an inspiration, role model, and source of advice as I’ve moved across from teaching architectural into researching engineering education. Pam had a Fulbright fellowship to Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) in 2009. Because I’d set that very same goal—winning a Fulbright grant to work at DIT—in 2003, Pam’s advice on the matter proved indispensable. She shared valuable insight into how Fulbright and DIT operate and she helped me connect with others in-the-know. On my first working trip to Dublin, I got to interview more than half a dozen academics about how DIT works, and this gave me the context I needed to make the most of my subsequent time here. Pam and I even met local scholars together, over another spring break, also before my Fulbright, when we both found ourselves Dublin.

Pam is truly one of the most generous, energetic, and positive people I’ve ever met. I’m beyond lucky to know her and I value her advice—even if I don’t always understand the funny policy-wonk words she uses! 😜

After the excellent musical “Kinky Boots.”

Pam has featured prominently on this blog before, as she’s visited me often in Dublin and we have met up in cities all around the world: Rome, Paris, New Orleans, and Washington, DC. Now we’ve added London to that list. Her professor-husband Dave is usually in tow, and always adding interesting insight, since he’s a former engineering dean.

I’m proud to say this was Pam and Dave’s first trip to the City of London and they really seemed to enjoy the place. I think they will be back!

While here, Pam and I got to work on the journal article we are crafting along with two of my colleagues from the Irish public service. We’ve had our proposal accepted for Policy Reviews in Higher Education, and now we need to pull the parts together and synch them effectively.

Following the departure of Pam and Dave, I had the chance to catch up with another favorite professor, Ron Daniel, and his spouse, Cheryl.

With Prof. Ron and Cheryl Daniel

Ron Daniel was my professor for spring semester of my second year of architecture school. We worked closely together, along with some other amazingly dedicated students and teachers, to create a multimedia extravaganza to celebrate Virginia Tech College of Architecture and Urban Studies’ 25th anniversary in 1989. We had nine screens running simultaneously with performance artists dancing throughout the hour-long show. In preparation for that bash, we also silkscreened posters and designed and poured concrete banner stands with welded steel bases—yes, I learned to weld at Virginia Tech!

For the Anniversary show, I was most closely involved with making several of the 16mm films running on three of the nine screens. And I was one of nine diligent students running the projection booth. What a techie I was!

The following year, Ron invited me to teach film workshops to younger students, and that got me into leading activities and events for my peers. Over the next three years, I taught many workshops and also organized trips, including excursions to Charlottesville, Columbus, and New York City to hear visiting lecturers—world renowned architects visiting UVA, Ohio State, and Columbia University.

When I was nearing graduation from VT’s Bachelor of Architecture program, I went to Ron, expressing interest in the teaching role I’d seen older students doing in the past. I hadn’t realized they were actually designated as lecturers. This was a full-time faculty role, and Ron thought I fit the bill. I was soon awarded this one-year stipend position, and looking back, it seems that may have been my first fellowship.

The year lecturing at VT was a success so I continued on to earn a post-professional Masters in Architecture that would allow me to teach in the future at the university level in architecture. Ron was one of my three advisors for that Masters, and the thesis document was good enough to snag a job working as an intern architect in Switzerland for a year, at Studio Martin Wagner. I also helped teach film that year, for the SCI-Arc center Martin directed.

For the past two years, Ron has been working in London. We finally got a chance to catch up in the neighborhood in Barnes where he and Cheryl have lived for the past year. Aongus and I throughly enjoyed visiting in their home, dining out with them, and attending a jazz performance together. Photos of the Cadillac Kings are included in the photo gallery below. What a hoot!

The instrumental roles professors have had in my life is clear. I’m glad I’ve stayed connected with many who have helped grow my abilities.

Prof. Brad Grant

In the past week, for instance, I’ve communivated with Prof. Brad Grant and Prof. David Leslie, who I learned from at Hampton University and William and Mary, respectively. I always enjoy hearing from them! Their kids—Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant, Asa Wynn-Grant, and Prof. Tom Leslie are true inspirations as well, and are always raising the bar higher.

And I’m doing my bit to reach out and support others in return. I hope someday the students I’ve worked with will have similar things to say about me. I cherish the ongoing relationships I have with my former students, many enabled by Facebook. Just this week, another one earned his license to practice architecture in the USA. Monteil Crawley joined his wife, Kristina Crawley, with this status. Monteil worked on the design of the Smithsonian’s new museum of African-American History. They both took my second-year architecture studio and Architectural Ecology class. I was Krissy’s Bachelors thesis advisor. Krissy went in to get a Masters from UVA. They have two bright and beautiful children.

Profs. David and Thomas Leslie

Today, I make a point to extend the kind and gracious support to the students I meet, as my professors extended me.

Kendall Brantley and Aongus and me at the Vaudeville Theater

For instance, a colleague of mine from Hampton has a niece, Kendall Brantley, who has been studying at NYU here in London. We’ve met a few times, and I took her for dinner and a play last week, before her trip home.

A PhD supervision meeting with Thomas Empson

I hope the relationship I’m developing with my new PhD advisee, Thomas Empson, will extend far into the future as well. Thomas is a doc student at London South Bank University, and I’ve just been appointed Visiting Professor there to aid in my work with him. Our working sessions over the past few months have been quite successful and I have the highest of hopes for him. He’s a bright student, well organized, and an extremely hard worker.

One of my current supervisors, Prof. John Mitchell, helped me connect to LSBU as a way to meet one of my training objectives. You see, my current fellowships aims to equip and position me to secure funding for larger grants. This is so that, someday, I can lead an independent research team. I’m gradually gaining skills in supervising and in publishing. And I’m connecting the people I know from the USA with scholars I meet here in Europe and those I’m working with globally, through networks like REEN and SEFI.

With London superstars Emanuela Tilley and Folashade Akinmolayan

I’m receiving this training as a Marie Curie Research Fellow at University College London, where I’m also officially classified as a Visiting Professor (which will help me continue collaborating with scholars here even after my two-year fellowship is done, for an additional three years or more). I’ve been learning so much from my new colleagues, like professors-in-the-making Folashade Akinmolayan and Emanuela Tilley.

Building a professional research network, connecting scholars across the ocean, and learning to supervise doc students are all important in building my skills as a researcher. And, they are a lot of fun as well!

 

 

 

Learning London: Transport for Mobility

 

My research supervisor in London, Professor Nick Tyler, is a global expert in transportation systems, with expertise in accessibility. He travels around the world advising transportation planners–and his research also has gone a long way to improve how Transport for London serves people with mobility challenges and various forms of disability.

Transportation Design

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A view from the testing platform, with Professor Tyler and some MSc students.

Nick offered a Masters-level class at University College London in Term 2 and I got to attend the opening day which was held at the research facility he heads, located on the Northern Line up in Tufnell Park.

On the opening day of this course on design for transport engineers, Nick’s students and I experienced what it’s like to navigate common street conditions while blindfolded, hearing impaired, or using crutches and wheelchairs.

The photo gallery provides a glimpse of this opening day. And, YES, it did feel like Back to the Future with Dr. Emmett Brown, who you likely remember as “Doc.”

About PAMELA

PAMELA stands for “Pedestrian Accessibility Movement Environment Laboratory.” The lab’s website explains that “PAMELA is a multisensory laboratory for the assessment of pedestrian movement.” In other words, it is a research facility with equipment for simulating real-world conditions at full scale so researchers can study how people with differing abilities deal with specific variables (sounds, ambient noise, varying light levels, tripping hazards, steps, etc.).

“Constructed between 2003 and 2006, the PAMELA laboratory is a novel and highly flexible facility,” UCL’s PAMELA webpage explains, “allowing full-scale pedestrian infrastructure to be built and tested to enable thorough assessment and evaluation. The structure includes a flexible floor surface that represents real ground conditions with interchangeable surface materials and is supported by a range of sensing equipment.” The webpage also describes specific research studies that have made a tremendous difference and yielded huge financial savings in London.

A picture of an underground carriage at PAMELA

Transport simulation research being done at PEARL. Image from http://www.engineering.ucl.ac.uk/news/pamela-develop-pearl/

Introducing PAMELA’s sister, PEARL

In 2017, Nick secured a £9m grant from EPSRC via its UK Collaboratorium for Research on Infrastructure and Cities (UKCRIC) program. This will fund the construction of a new and improved version of PAMELA, called PEARL (People-Environment-Activity Research Laboratory).

Connecting UCL and DIT

In May, during my two visits to Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), I learned that my colleagues at DIT’s transportation engineers, led by Dr. Lorraine D’Arcy, received validation to launch a new, interdisciplinary Master of Science (MSc) degree in Transport and Mobility. I look forward to helping Lorraine connect with Nick so she and DIT can learn from–and hopefully, contribute to–the wealth of experience and knowledge Nick has accrued.

 

Learning London: Four-Day Family Extravaganza

My cousin Kaitlin has been teaching English in Spain this past year. So we (my partner Aongus and I) decided to add a second stamp to her passport and we invited her up to London for an extended weekend

Aongus meet her at the Tube station and guided her home from the airport, with a stop for dinner at our favorite Indian restaurant, Indigo at Richmix. Meanwhile, I sped back via train from my conference in Newcastle and arrived home minutes before them.

We were up bright and early Thursday morning for the start of a whirlwind tour that lasted four days.

On day one, we included:

  • Kaitlin’s first double-decker bus trip, on Bus 8, so as to see St. Paul’s and other prominent sites from the top deck, front row–best seats on the bus!
  • Sir John Soane’s House Museum, full of Roman antiquities and memorable painting and flooded with daylight in every corner.
  • The British Museum, stopping for coffee in the courtyard and visiting the South American and Egyptian sections.
  • Dashing into the Building Centre in Store Street to view the enormous model of London.
  • A relaxing couple of hours in Bloomsbury, for lunch with my UCL colleagues Emanuela and Folashade–our farewell sendoff to Queen Mary University of London for Folashade.
  • A walk to Picadilly Circus and the courtyard of the Royal Academy, with rose petal macaroons at Laudre in the Burlington Arcade, then onward to Green Park, the gates of Buckingham Palace, and a stroll across St. James’s Park.
  • Arriving at Westminster Abbey in perfect time to attend the choral Evensong.
  • A walk to Trafalgar Square and up Strsnd Street to fetch tickets at the box office of The Savoy.
  • A quick but tasty dinner at Itsu, where Aongus joined us after his work day.
  • A delightful evening at the West End musical “Dreamgirls”
  • Wrapping up the day with a walk through Covent Garden, stopping at Gelaterino before our bus ride home

Day two was filled with more adventures. This was Saturday and we headed by Tube to the Bourough of South Kensington and Chelsea for:

  • The Saatchi Gallery (modern art)
  • Kale salad and chestnut/almond waffles at a favorite cafe on Sloane Avenue
  • The Natural History Museum, where we focused on the dinasoaur and mammal exhibitions
  • Drinks and tagines at the Comptoir Libanas restaurant on Exhibition Road where we snagged an outdoor table under the awnings and heat lamps to avoid the evening rainstorm
  • Art-till-you-drop and cultural-encounters-of-all-kinds at the Victoria and Albert Museum (we saw several new wings due to Kaitlin’s interest in world religions)
  • Visits to high-end furniture shops and luxury department stores (John Lewis top to bottom, Herrod’s food courts, and Harvey Nichols tour of floors)
  • Pints at the Wilton Arms to again wait out the rain, and chat with some lively Brits
  • Dinner nearby at the Alfred Tennyson to round out the day and a stroll through high-end alleyways en route back to the tube–admiring the pricy vehicles.

Kaitlin spent day three with a friend she graduated university alongside. I’m so impressed with Kaitlin and all she has learned and done. She graduated first in her university class last year and then came to teach in Spain fresh out of college. She has taught both in a school and also private lessons and she even played soccer competitively, on a team in Spain.

Since it was Sunday and she was otherwise occupied, Aongus and I made the most of the day with:

  • A visit to the Imperial War Museum and the Tibetian Peace Garden, located on its grounds
  • A walk over to Trafalgar Square with a delightful Sunday roast at The Clarence
  • Fancy desserts at the sushi place in Kingly Court
  • Bus ride back to Shoreditch to catch up with Kaitlin at a South American restaurant near our home

On day four, Kaitlin and I had specific plans. We headed to:

  • The Churchill War Rooms, also viewing the exhibition on Churchill’s life
  • The London Eye, for a half-hour trip around this impressive Ferris wheel with its sweeping views of London
  • A quick visit to the National Gallery
  • Our second lunch in Bloomsbury at Dim T, since we enjoyed the one wit Folashade and Emanuela so much
  • A walking tour across University College London’s city campus

We gathered our bags from my office at UCL and boarded the tube for Heathrow, where we bid each other farewell–me heading to Dublin for a week’s work and Kait back to Spain to wrap up her teaching.

It was a truly delightful four days, though I admit I was completely exhausted the day after we parted. It was a treat to get to know this first-cousin-once-removed a bit better and to learn how very much alike we are despite having drastically different parental upbringing. I’m so very impressed with the person she’s become and how intelligent and thoughtful and hardworking and courteous she is. I’m glad I’d worked ahead and could take comp days while she was here so I could really get to know her. It was a rare treat to tour the city with her, and one I hope to have someday again.

Getting to Know London

img_5553The time has come to start moving over to London since my new research fellowship starts with the new year, so I flew across last weekend to finalize our apartment choice and leave some luggage with friends for safekeeping.

Aongus ended up having to work all weekend back in Dublin so I transported two 20 kilo bags and a little weekend knapsack to London myself. Rolled the bags from my flat to work to the taxi stand, into Dublin airport and out at Gatwick, to the train, into the tube, down a few block to the hotel, into a cab, and up four flights to our new home. I only had to carry them five flights in all–escalators can be a blessing! Note of advice: when transporting two big bags, it surely helps if one has four wheels. It makes the job much easier as you can push or pull, and easily change direction. You don’t have to carry all the weight in your hand, as it can rest on the wheels.

On Saturday morning, with the transport job behind me, I had the rest of the weekend free to visit friends, tour museums (Whitechapel Gallery, the British Museum and the National Gallery), wander the city from Shoreditch to the West End, enjoy good food, and take in a play.

img_5565-1The weather was delightfully sunny and the city felt festive. London was celebrating Armistice Day with a parade hosted by the city’s Lord Mayor. The people wore poppies on their lapels and little parades sprung up here and there in addition to the main event that covered the entire central city Saturday.

And *fall* was in the air! The only drawback to this is that people on this side of the Atlantic insist on calling the season “autumn.” To me, using this two-syllable word is quite a drag.

Loved ones back in the States, do enjoy the colorful falling leaves gracing your streets and lawns at this time of year, the brilliant red maple leaves 🍁🍁🍁, and bask in using the apt term “fall!”

For the flights in both directions, I enjoyed Aongus’ window seat, but await his return to my side for the next trip across. I get a big kick that he’s like a kid in a candy store when he sits by the window–viewing in anticipation whatever delightful new adventure awaits us on the ground. Life gets exponentially better over time and he amplifies my enjoyment of visiting new places.

London, we can’t wait to return!