Getting to know Sarah Leach

Sarah Leach, an associate professor of mechanical engineering technology, has taught at Purdue’s College of Technology in South Bend for 12 years. She holds a master’s degree in materials science and engineering from the University of Notre Dame. She is on track to earn her doctorate in materials engineering from Purdue in 2013. Leach was employed by CTS Corporation in Elkhart for 15 years prior to joining Purdue. She is a registered professional engineer and a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.


On teaching: We need to get students to be self-directed learners. They need to learn how to learn and be problem solvers. I am trying more and more to do problem-based activities. I try to have students think about the learning process, how they can be proactively involved in their own learning. It’s important that we’re not just pass–dumping information into their heads. The advantage of my teaching so many classes is that students see me over and over again. I can make connections between content in various courses.

I will say that everyone who teaches should go back and take a class once in awhile to remember what it’s like to be on the receiving end of the syllabus.

On experiential learning: I am a field tester for a National Science Foundation-sponsored project with SUNY-Buffalo, ASU, Maricopa Community College, and several other partners. They develop activity modules and get people to test them. I get to pick and choose, so I’ve used the nanotechnology modules. In a separate program, we are able to work with Penn State to gain remote access to some of their analytical equipment. My students can ask questions and interact with professors and lab personnel there. On Purdue’s West Lafayette campus, we routinely access Knoy Hall’s solar panel system online. We did a course last year that included a team project between mechanical engineering technology and electrical engineering technology. We had an industry sponsor who had an equipment need, and our students were able to support local industry and learn in the process.

On her pre-teaching career: I think I have a pretty good idea of what is expected of our students once they graduate. I did most of that work with a bachelor’s degree. I was a front line technical problem solver. Because I worked in industry, I can give examples from the real-world on how we use the things we’re learning in class. I was fortunate to work for a small company, so I was able to do a number of roles in the company: product engineer, project engineer, team leader, and design and development. I had interactions with every part of the manufacturing process. It is really different working for Purdue. A company has competitors, so they don’t want t show you things. When you work for Purdue, you can call anybody and arrange a tour of their facility. People are generous with their time; they like to meet and encourage the students.

On the benefits of a field trip: The professors and students in the engineering technology programs at South Bend, Anderson and Richmond met at Red Gold’s Orestes factory for a tour last year. We tried to give students an idea of the various kinds of technology used in that type of operation. Afterward, we had them do process maps. The idea was to give them some sense of how a company prepares for the complexity. How do they get the job done? The coordination of the process is just amazing.  And the tour guides were so excited. It’s a good thing for the students to have a vision of where they’re going; to see people who are working hard but having fun.

Outside of a Purdue:  My husband and I live on a small farm outside of South Bend. I have a horse and enjoy horseback riding.