The School of Engineering Education's faculty, students, staff and alumni all have intriguing tales to tell -- and it's Lisa Tally's passion to ensure those stories are heard.
As communication director for Engineering Education, Tally draws on her background in book and magazine publishing and her love of the written word to inform constituents, prospective students and others about the school, which was established in 2004, in interesting and creative ways.
What do you do as communication director for the School of Engineering Education?
Since the school has been around in its current form for only a short time, it's my job to let people know who we are and what we're doing across our three programs -- First-Year Engineering, Interdisciplinary Engineering, and our new Ph.D. program in engineering education. The Ph.D. program focuses on research that helps us understand how engineering is best taught and learned. It's the first program of its kind in the world, in a field that's only now emerging as an academic discipline, so articulating why our Ph.D. and research program exists and why it matters is important.
The diversity of our programs keeps my job extremely varied. In one day I might move from finalizing an electronic newsletter to scheduling photography to working on a conference exhibit. I especially enjoy writing about the school and its research and activities. Students, faculty, staff and alumi have a lot of great stories to tell, and it's my pleasure to help share them.
Have you had any memorable moments in your time working at Purdue?
Definitely. This past November, our school sponsored a colloquium -- co-hosted by the Colleges of Engineering and Liberal Arts -- on the 50th anniversary of human spaceflight. It was the culmination of a lot of planning and preparation. We were able to bring together a NASA flight director -- one of our interdisciplinary engineering alumni -- and a Purdue history professor to talk about the on-the-ground teamwork and public support that makes an enterprise like human spaceflight possible.
Placing engineering in its social context and working across disciplines are a big part of what the School of Engineering Education is about, so to me this event was a very fitting and memorable way for Purdue to mark the 50th anniversary.
What projects are you currently working on?
Right now I'm working on a research report that profiles our faculty members and their research activities. There’s an incredible range of fundamental work being done here. Our faculty members are working with pre-college students—even preschoolers—to understand how they learn engineering concepts. They are analyzing college engineering recruitment and retention data to determine who becomes interested in engineering, and why students persist in the discipline. They are developing concept inventories that help educators assess students’ understanding of fundamental concepts, and they’re conducting and applying research that shapes curricula to incorporate more design work, problem solving, and interdisciplinary and global perspectives. We’ll unveil the research report in June, at the annual conference of the American Society for Engineering Education, where educators from all over will be able to learn about the cutting-edge research being done at Purdue.
How are you involved in the Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette?
Around 2004, I got involved as a rehearsal pianist and accompanist, and since then I've played for nine shows, most recently "Cabaret." Many of the Civic actors, directors, musicians and backstage crew work or are enrolled at the University, and I enjoy getting to know such a range of Purdue people outside work. I also had the chance last year to accompany Purdue Theatre's production of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee." As a person who's enjoyed all kinds of Purdue productions from the audience, it was a lot of fun to be onstage in the Hansen Theatre.
Are you able to combine your work at Purdue with your interest in music?
Every now and then a good opportunity comes along. A few years ago, during a meeting for advisors and faculty who help students register for classes, I was part of a small group that performed a parody song that a friend had written about the Banner program and its nearly unpronounceable terminology. I found out about the meeting that morning, ran home for my keyboard and sheet music, and by midday we had an ensemble together.
A year or so after that, for the School of Engineering Education's five-year anniversary, I wrote lyrics for a musical parody -- a medley -- about our collective history up to that point. We had faculty, staff and students singing, a graduate student playing percussion, and I was on the keyboard. It may be the only time in history that a Gilbert and Sullivan melody has bumped up against melodies by Don McLean, Billy Joel and Johnny Cash.