Bringing us together

Author: Teresa Walker
Event Date: September 23, 2020
We knew this semester was going to be full of challenges. Our First-Year Engineering students in the School of Engineering Education, most living independently for the first time in their lives, had nothing to compare this first semester to. They are now college students wanting to do all that they’ve heard about, like hanging out with classmates between and after classes. Yet they find themselves again in an environment where their rooms are safe for isolation – both from the pandemic and social interaction that they have craved since the spring of their senior year of high school – here on campus and in their homes attending Purdue remotely. How do we bridge the gap so our remote students feel like a college student and part of our program? How do we engage our campus students with the limitations and safety protocols in place? How do we bring us together?

We are engineers. Engineers fix problems. And our school has world-renowned faculty who research engineering education and how it is best learned and taught. 

A call to action

One week into the Fall semester, Assistant Head of First-Year Engineering Isabel Jimenez-Useche invited our remote students to assemble on, a virtual space to meet and hang out with each other. We had Purdue First-Year Engineering (FYE) students from all over the world show up to that first gathering with positive interactions and feedback. One participant said, “It was really nice to be able to talk in small groups without a faculty member and just be college kids together.” Since then, Jimenez-Useche, with the support of FYE students who have volunteered to help, has hosted more “gathers” and FYE social-hours open to all FYE students. We have also created a FYE community site in Brightspace for FYE students to connect. Because we asked and they responded, more and more remote and campus students are taking advantage of these virtual hangout spaces to build their community. 

FYE Social on Gather.Town is just part of a series of activities that the FYE program is putting in place to build community among students. “In this time of a pandemic, we have lost so many informal spaces to get to know each other. As good engineers, we need to get creative and propose new spaces where that informal interaction can happen,” said Jimenez-Useche. “The college experience goes beyond the classes, and we want our Engineering 2024 class to also have those experiences, in a different but unique and innovative way.” 

In our call to action, we focus on what we can control to create opportunities and conduct them safely to #ProtectPurdue and each other. Exercise is one way to break through the isolation and meet friends while they’re at it, not to mention all of the benefits from exercising. 

Zumba on Slayter Ad

We are engineers. Engineers fix problems. And one of our faculty members became a Zumba instructor early in the pandemic. 

FYE Get Active – Zumba with Your Professor was launched. “I love Zumba and it’s the one exercise I actually enjoy doing. It motivates me to actually want to exercise, and I know that exercising is very important for the body, mind, and overall health,” said Dr. Tamara Moore, Professor of Engineering Education and Interim Director of INSPIRE Research Institute for Pre-College Engineering. With nine years of Zumba experience and a newly acquired instructor’s certificate, she taught 32 students Zumba on Slayter Hill over the weekend. The sessions were also streamed so that remote students or those who wanted to stay in isolation could follow along. (Some of our faculty and staff followed along as well!)

Professor Tamara Moore
Photo: Professor Tamara Moore leads First-Year Engineering students through Zumba exercises

Moore, who instructs our ENGR 131 and 132 courses and is a Purdue alumna (x4) jumped right onto the request from Jimenez-Useche. “I was all about it! I wanted to share my love of Zumba and also share the fact that there’s more to life than work. That there are good ways to have fun and also do things that are healthy for you,” said Moore. Dr. Moore also had the students’ interests at heart. 

This class of students has just had so much taken away from them - not being in school their last semester as a senior; not having events like commencements, graduation parties, and proms; lost opportunities to celebrate with their families and friends. So here they are coming to college and again not having a normal first year experience. It was my hope that we had students come so they could get to know one another. And they did! They were so brave, but I do think that the reason they came was so that they could visit in person. Maybe they wanted to exercise? That is also why I made the challenge for the students to meet at least one new person.  - Professor Moore

First-Year Engineering Students exercising to Zumba on Slayter Hill
Photo: First-Year Engineering students exercising on Slayter Hill

This group of participants proved that Boilermakers keep going and exceeded their challenge from Dr. Moore. They stayed well after the hourlong sweat session to meet as many students as they could. When asked about Zumba and what they liked about the event, FYE student Olivia from the Chicago suburbs, said “it was really nice to get out and do something in real life with real people.” Ellie from Tennessee was surprised by the number of people who came “and the number of guys here.” One of those guys, Nachi from Virginia, said it was fun and started getting difficult halfway through. “It was a great way to wake up on a Saturday morning. Hope to do it again,” said Brent from California. Dan from Pennsylvania added that “it was a cool way to workout and meet new people.” The more they talked, the comments turned to requests. Nachi suggested, “You’d get more (students) from ENGR 133 if Dr. Oakes was here.” Brent added “I’d like to see Dr. Nauman from ENGR 161 out here. Dr. Nauman, I’m calling you out. Come to Zumba on Saturday mornings.” 

Dr. Bill Oakes and Dr. Eric Naumanyou have been officially summoned!

In the most creative ways that can #ProtectPurdue, this event really did bring us together but at a safe distance. Jimenez-Useche and Nicole Towner, FYE Instructional Support Manager, organized the event on Slayter to safely spread out the students so that they could exercise without a mask. Towner marked off 10-foot areas with hula hoops for students to mark their spot (but removed for safety after their spots were taken). Students did their part and took seriously their #ProtectPurduePledge. Every student arrived with their mask worn correctly. They kept on their masks until they chose their spot and removed them, some reluctantly and one not at all, when Dr. Moore gave them permission. When the session was over, they put on their masks before meeting new students as part of their challenge. The smiles were fantastic to see during the session but just as fantastic were the masked faces of our students on a mission to protect themselves and others. 

First-Year Engineering students talking on Slayter Hill
Photo: Students were challenged to stay after Zumba to meet at least one new person. They exceeded the challenge!

As Moore suggested, this event maybe wasn’t about Zumba for the students. It was about being present together. Their participation has inspired us to do more, so watch for more events. It looks like at least one more Zumba could be in the works?

We are engineers. Engineers fix problems. We are Boilermakers. Boilermakers keep going. 

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