Example Maker

5 Students Who are Example Makers

5 Students Who
Mel Chua

Mel Chua

  • Mel Chua
  • Amanda Emery
  • LeRoy E. Gordon III
  • Erika Healy
  • Zach Umperovitch

Name: Mel Chua
Major: Engineering education
Year: 1st year doctoral student
Hometown: The Internet (and/or Glenview, Illinois)

By day, Mel is an engineering education Ph.D. student. At night, she turns the tables to teach and coach faculty members across the country in ways to provide their students with real-world, hands-on learning experiences. After receiving a degree in electrical and computer engineering, Mel worked as an engineer in several open source companies; when professors kept asking how their students could participate in the projects she worked on, she created summer workshops to teach faculty the open-source way of doing things. The desire to know which techniques work best brought her to Purdue.

Real-world projects

“An open source project is a great way for students to work with real users, millions of users in many cases, people from all over the world. The problem is, ‘How do you do that?’ The culture of academia and the culture of open source are very different, so we started these workshops to help faculty members bridge the two—almost like a cultural immersion. Instead of studying abroad in France, you study abroad in Firefox.”

Grad school preview

“Some of the professors who attended the workshop invited me to visit their classes the following school year. I spent several weeks on site, following their classes and research meetings, giving talks and working with students. It was a great preview of academic life, and the encouragement of these teachers convinced me I wanted to return to school.”

Dual roles

“Now that I’m a grad student, my relationship with the professors who are teaching open source has taken on another layer. Sometimes we’ll spend the first half of our conversations talking about their classes and I’ll be in a mentor role, describing ways that different problems can be solved. In the second half, it’s me asking about research and classes, with the professors mentoring me.”

Unusual collection

“I have a collection of weird textbooks for when I get to be a professor some day. For instance, Professor E. McSquared’s Original, Fantastic and Highly Edifying Calculus Primer is a comic book from 1975. Derivatives are much more fun when explained by a cartoon duck. Or why not explain surreal numbers in a play, as Donald Knuth did?”

Cartoonist engineer

“I had to write an essay on ‘What is Engineering?’ for History and Philosophy of Engineering Education, my first core course in the Ph.D. program. I was trying to do my outline and it kept coming out as pictures. I finally decided to do the whole thing the way that felt right — as a graphic essay. I turned it in and my department loved it.”

By Susan Ferringer
Published February 2012