Doing to learn vs. learning to do

Originally published in the 2016 edition of Innovation magazine

By Amy Raley, Purdue Marketing and Media

Purdue Polytechnic puts students to work — not simply telling them to learn to do modern technologies — but requiring them to do the technologies in order to learn them.

Sophomore Mikaela Caron embraces this approach instinctively as a mechanical engineering technology major. Beyond her coursework, she has immersed herself in projects outside of class that help her learn, including one in which she was able to help do some teaching.During the 2015 fall semester, Caron helped create a highly interactive booth for Purdue Day at the Indiana State Museum called “Rad Science: Skatepark Physics.” The activity was designed to encourage excitement about science and technology.

“We focused on the material side of skateboarding, showing the flexibility of skateboards,” Caron says. “We set up two different exhibits — one was for children and the other was for teenagers and adults. We set up a GoPro camera so they could film themselves jumping on the flexible board, a longboard, to see how flexible it was, and then on a skateboard, which is much stiffer. The whole exhibit showed the basic physics that go into everything you do on a skateboard that nobody really thinks of.”

Caron also pushed herself outside of her comfort zone as a freshman by joining the Biowall student team, whose research to integrate a wall of living plants into a building’s heating and ventilation system won a national award. The system could improve indoor air quality and reduce energy use by decreasing the need for ventilation using outdoor air.

This summer, she continued her immersion in learning by doing. She interned at Nucor Steel in Kentucky. “I’ll be working with maintenance and technicians to solve manufacturing issues — troubleshooting,” Caron says. “It’s definitely going to be a learning experience.”

This fall, in addition to a full slate of classes and her membership in the Women in Technology student organization, she plans to push herself again with possible involvement in the Discovery Park Undergraduate Research Internship (DURI) program. The program has students work alongside faculty doing cutting-edge research in Purdue’s Discovery Park. “I will have to apply,” Caron says. “I plan to look for research that interests me.”