Cookies, Toys, and Engineering

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Hey Hawkeyes!

It’s starting to get a little chillier out which makes me excited! I love snow and can’t wait to wear scarves and boots. I’m still kinda surprised at how fast this semester is going. It seems like it’s flying by! We’re already in November and I’m about one month and a week away from graduating. When did that happen?! With the end of the semester and my time here at Iowa gets closer, I’ve been thinking a lot about the experiences I’ve had. One of these experiences is the opportunity to be a teaching assistant, or TA.

A lot of schools will have TAs teach the class and the students never interact with the professor. However with all of my classes, the teaching assistant was exactly that: an assistant. The TAs are there to help answer questions, grade homework, and help proctor tests. This is my second semester as a TA for the same class and I really enjoy it. The class I TA is a beginning engineering course, typically taken during the first semester. I love getting to interact with the first-years and watch them experience their first semester of college. They panic about deadlines and double check to make sure they’re doing things right. I find it really fun and rewarding to be the one to reassure them that they’re going to make it, they will pass their classes with hard work, and that they will in fact survive engineering.

There are a bunch of sections of this class, but the professor I work under is really dedicated to doing hands-on projects. In fact, it’s the same professor I had when I took the class four years ago. Most of the projects are the same so it’s been fun to see the freshmen in the same position I was in just a few years ago. I also really enjoy the variety of projects we get to help with and end up grading. One of my favorites is cookie coating. Yes, with actual cookies. Basically, we want to help them think about how to design a process with accuracy and precision while being able to convey those instructions in written form. So they get to pick cookies and a type of chocolate and come up with a way to uniformly coat the cookies with chocolate. As a TA, there was a ton of prep for the actual project, including weighing up the chocolate. The other TA and I learned a lot about chocolate amounts and how easy cookies break. The best part is after the process is complete, all of the students have to grade each other on several parameters, including taste. And the TAs, of course, have to try all the cookies to provide the most accurate grade.

$100 of chocolate and cookies, in case you were wondering

$100 of chocolate and cookies, in case you were wondering

Another project is called reverse engineering. Each group chooses a toy from the box we provide and they must disassemble it and put it back together. In order to get full points, the toy must be operational at the end of the project. Once they know how it works, they present to the class about the toy and what improvements could be made. It’s always an adventure when the toys are used over and over and develop small issues. My TA partner never got to do this project so he got in on the action when a group couldn’t figure out why their toy couldn’t come apart. It turned out the screws were stripped, but we were able to get it apart and back together, and have it operational!

My co-TA playing with *cough* I mean fixing the toy.

My co-TA playing with *cough* I mean fixing the toy

I’ve really enjoyed being a TA and I’m looking forward to see the designs this group comes up with for their final project. I’ll try to share updates as we get more into the final project of building disaster proof houses for developing countries!