First-Class Innovators

Tandon Faculty Members Bring an Innovation Mindset to the Teaching Space

At an engineering school focused on creating tomorrow’s technology solutions today, you would expect innovation to be a watchword. Indeed, the research being conducted in Tandon labs is changing the way cities plan their transportation systems, doctors treat their patients, consumers protect their data, and much more.

But at Tandon, innovation isn’t contained just in the lab: it’s in play from the moment a student sets foot in a classroom. Because while our faculty members might be world-renowned researchers, they’re also highly engaged educators devoted to experimentation in both pedagogy and curriculum in their pursuit of student success.

Nurturing Empathetic Engineers

Senior Lecturer Allan Goldstein teaches Disabilities Studies to aspiring engineers seeking to create new adaptive technologies and human-centered designs. His popular course pairs engineering students with adults who have disabilities: one section involving people with cerebral palsy and another involving those with intellectual or developmental disabilities. The course, which has been the subject of a documentary film, is just one of the ways in which he contributes to life at Tandon: he is a seminal member of the NYU Ability Project, an interdisciplinary research space at the intersection between disability and technology, and thanks in large part to him, Tandon students can now earn a minor in Disabilities Studies.

Goldstein, the winner of one of NYU’s most prestigious honors, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Faculty Award, was recently named by the influential periodical Chronicle of Higher Education to its inaugural list of Teaching Innovators, which the publication describes as “faculty members who are using fresh approaches in their classrooms to help their students succeed [and] those who are in it for the long haul, who constantly revise their teaching to find what works, who deeply want to connect with their students.”

Closing the Gender Gap

Professor of Computer Science and Engineering Phyllis Frankl has made it her mission to ensure that Tandon — and tech — are welcoming to female students. As a member of the school’s Women in Engineering, Science, Technology and Math (WESTM) group, she is at the forefront of Tandon’s drive to attract and retain young women students, spearheading a drive to hire more female teaching assistants who can serve as role models, for example, and encouraging female students to support one another. She also was instrumental in redesigning entry-level computer science courses to make the jargon and concepts understandable to students who hadn’t been rebuilding the circuit boards of gaming computers in high school — a big step toward inclusiveness. Tandon is now making enormous strides towards gender parity: women comprise 36 percent of the Class of 2020 and 41 percent of the Class of 2021, well above the national average.

The National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) recently honored Tandon for its successes in this area, highlighting the school’s annual networking event for incoming female students, its women’s peer mentoring program, and other programs in which Frankl is instrumental. Thanks to her efforts, even before an aspiring female engineer takes her first class, she knows she’ll be surrounded by like-minded and supportive students and professors.

Every Student Can Be a VIP

Tandon students will attest that they accomplish a lot over the course of a single semester. It can be hard, however, to move on from an exciting topic or favorite professor once the semester is over. What if there were a way to work on a real-world project so big and so important that it spanned almost your entire academic career? Students have the chance to find out, now that Tandon has joined a consortium of elite schools throughout the world that have instituted the Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP) Program.

VIP was created so that learning isn’t fragmented into years, semesters, or class periods, and scholarship isn’t slotted into rigid disciplinary silos. It aims to encourage the type of long-term, in-depth learning that keeps students engaged and improves career preparation. Beginning sophomore year, students can apply to work on one of several major projects that encompass smart-city technology, 3D printing, vertical farming, mixed reality, and other important areas.
Students from all majors collaborate on a project for up to three years, earning a credit each semester, and teams are structured so that they include students from a mix of departments. That means people from electrical engineering, computer engineering, integrated digital media, and other departments have a chance to work alongside one another — just as they’ll be expected to do when they collaborate on large multidisciplinary projects in the work world.

Think Like an Engineer

Imagine high school is nearing its end, and you’ve been accepted to NYU Tandon. It’s an exciting prospect. You’ll probably be even more excited once you’ve had a chance to browse the course listings and discover that one of your courses, EG 1001 Innovation and Technology Forum, will teach you the concepts of invention, innovation, and entrepreneurship and that a variety of highly regarded figures in STEM and entrepreneurship will be guest lecturers. If you like to get your hands dirty, you are also eager to dive into a course that will give you the tools to make new technology, like EG 1003 Introduction to Engineering and Design. Now imagine that you receive a letter inviting you to apply for a spot in a new program that combines the best of both, in order to immerse you in hands-on engineering from Day 1.

The first cohort of students successfully completing the pilot program for the i2e section of EG 1001 and EG 1003.

The first cohort of students successfully completing the pilot program for the i2e section of EG 1001 and EG 1003.

Tandon’s i2e Program, named for the concepts of Invention, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship, is a first-year experience that introduces Tandon’s youngest students to human-centered design thinking, the maker movement, lean start-up methodology, and the importance of creating technology that will solve practical, real-world problems; encourages them to move from ideation to actual prototyping as they learn engineering principles; and gives them access to Tandon’s cutting-edge MakerSpace, with its wide array of 3D printers, laser cutters, milling machines, soldering stations, and other equipment.

Thanks to David Lefer (who teaches the Innovation and Technology Forum), Gunter Georgi, Jack Bringardner, Peter Li, and Jim Cordista (the EG 1003 professors), Victoria Bill (the NYU Tandon MakerSpace Manager), and Melinda Parham (Assistant Dean for First-year Students & Academic Initiatives), it’s a prime example of how Tandon is integrating student creativity, design thinking, and entrepreneurship into the engineering curriculum and producing a new generation of engineers equipped to thrive in the workforce and the world.

Spreading the Joy of STEM Entrepreneurship

STEM entrepreneurship holds great appeal to students but misconceptions and apprehensions sometimes discourage women from participating, according to Associate Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Jin Kim Montclare. In order to correct those misconceptions and calm those apprehensions, Montclare recently launched Tandon’s Convergence of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Institute, and thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation, she is leading a group of Tandon’s most entrepreneurial faculty in attracting, instructing, and mentoring student entrepreneurs — particularly women and other groups under-represented in STEM.

The first cohort is enhancing the efficiency of fuel cells for electric cars; creating a fully functional, self-supporting polymer 3D printer; exploring ways to lessen food waste; and analyzing urban geography through big data.

Building a Bridge to a Great Career

Professor of Computer Science and Engineering Nasir Memon is worried about the job outlook for people with computer science backgrounds — not that it is bleak, but that it is so good that experts are predicting a global shortfall of 1.8 million qualified candidates in cybersecurity alone by 2022, much less in artificial intelligence, data science, or any of the other burgeoning fields of computer science and engineering. While positions in these fields yield some of the highest return on investment with six-figure salary potential, those with bachelor’s degrees in non-STEM disciplines are typically locked out unless they are willing to spend thousands of dollars and countless hours on undergraduate courses to prepare for graduate study in these areas.

To ameliorate the situation, Memon, has spearheaded a novel distance-learning program, A Bridge to NYU Tandon, which gives people with college degrees but little background in science or engineering the tools they need to apply for graduate study in one of NYU Tandon’s master’s degree programs in computer science, computer engineering, bioinformatics, and cybersecurity. Those who complete the course with a grade of B-plus or better and meet all other NYU Tandon admission requirements are admitted to a qualifying master’s program and set on the path to a solid and gratifying career. The Bridge to Tandon tuition is only $1,500 and is offered as a 26-week part-time or 17-week full-time program in the winter, spring, summer, or fall quarters.

Teaching the Teachers

Professor Vikram Kapila, far right, oversees three summer STEM programs for teachers in mechatronics and robotics.

Professor Vikram Kapila, far right, oversees three summer STEM programs for teachers in mechatronics and robotics.

Professor of Mechanical Engineering Vikram Kapila wants New York City’s schoolchildren to get interested in STEM well before they reach college age. He’s the force behind Tandon’s Research Experience for Teachers (RET), Discovery Research (DR K-12), and Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) — summer programs that bring middle- and high-school teachers into university labs to learn about topics like mechatronics and robotics so that they can return to their own schools with fresh ideas for getting their students excited about tech.

Well ahead of schedule, Kapila is helping the School of Engineering fulfill its 2014 pledge to the White House to educate 500 teachers and positively impact 50,000 public school students throughout the city over the course of a decade.

“With these programs, teachers, high school students, graduate and undergraduate students, and NYU Tandon professors are all working together, and that’s an ecosystem in which learning takes place,” Kapila explained. His own students get a lot from working in that context: “It’s broadening their perspectives on how science, engineering, mechatronics, and robotics can benefit society. They’re learning to translate their education into education for others.”