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Taking the path back to engineering ... and on to Binghamton
September 14, 2010Tweet
“I majored in engineering for one semester,” said Michael Elmore, PhD ’04 of his freshman year at the University of Vermont. “I was interested in the big questions; what it’s all about, how is it related.” While uncertainty – faced by many engineering undergrads – led him to change his major, the road that followed eventually returned to engineering.
Now, one month into his new role as director of the Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science Engineering Design Division, Elmore’s own freshman experience has made him appreciate even more the unique balance of technical knowledge and communications skills offered by Binghamton’s freshman engineering program.
“The stereotypical engineer is someone who’s focused solely on the technical aspects of a problem. But that’s far from the truth,” Elmore said. “EDD provides a much more complete view of what an engineer does by bringing all of the elements – science, technology, math, communications – together.”
During that one semester as an engineering major, Elmore took many of the same core courses as Binghamton freshmen, but what was lacking was the correlation back to engineering that Binghamton provides.
“Students in EDD are writing and giving presentations, but their topics are engineering related,” he said.
Elmore graduated from the University of Vermont with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and continued on there for his master of education degree. After teaching high school math for five years though, the pull of engineering returned.
The clincher, he said, was a book he read, The Soul of a New Machine. “It really captured my imagination.” The popular work by Tracy Kidder chronicles the struggles, drama and dedication of a team of engineers tasked to design a state-of-the-art computer. The story provides unique insights into the people behind a technology to bring engineering to life.
Elmore returned to the University of Vermont and in 1985, more than 15 years after switching away from engineering, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering.
He was hired by General Electric in Johnson City that June and stayed in the area for the next 25 years working at Celestica Corporation, BAE Systems and finally, Lockheed Martin. During that time, he received his master’s in electrical engineering from Syracuse University and his PhD in electrical and computer engineering from Binghamton.
When he saw the EDD director position advertised in the Sunday paper, “I knew almost immediately that it was a perfect match with my skills,” Elmore said. He had the technical engineering background as well as a familiarity with high school seniors. And his philosophical background gave him an appropriate viewpoint for the ever-increasing interdisciplinary and complex nature of the engineering field.
Thus far, Elmore is talking with faculty and department chairs, coordinating lectures, instructing freshman courses, meeting with prospective students’ and their parents, and helping out as a teaching assistant (TA) in a Discovering Engineering lab.
“Maybe I can’t get to know all the students in my 330-person lecture,” he said. “But with 24 students in a lab, I can get to know them one-on-one.”
Team-based engineering projects will continue to be a cornerstone for EDD. In addition to some of the familiar projects used in past semesters, engineering students will experience some new ones this year. One in particular involves an Arduino, an open-source prototyping platform that student teams will use to create interactive objects, like turn-signal clothing for cyclists.
Elmore said he looks forward to working with the Watson School faculty and staff to continue to grow and evolve the EDD program. “Tracy Kidder captured the essence of the engineering experience the same as EDD does as it prepares freshmen students for careers in engineering,” Elmore said. “That road led me here, and I feel this is where I belong.”