What isschool for?

An existential question I’ve been asking myself these last two weeks before I complete my Master’s in Hispanic Studies program. Since I am a product of the humanities, the Edelstien article was a pleasant surprise. While reading it, I thought to myself – perhaps studying obscure works, staying up until the crack of dawn trying to uncover the hidden meaning and social critiques done in literature, the endless hours spent researching the use of religious identity in colonial literature, the impact of the Latin-American Boom on the literary world, or the identity crisis of post-Franco Spain – wasn’t all in vain. 

The humanities are important. I keep repeating to myself…

All jokes aside, this program has taught me to go beyond the surface, think critically…innovate. 

However, I’ve not thought about it as innovation until reading the article, but yes, I can attest to that. The humanities – studying literature and history has taught me to be innovative, to view what has been done in a new light, to try to understand the reasoning behind the impact of words. 

“To innovate is thus less to abandon the past than it is to tinker, transform, and revise what came before.” (Edelstien)

Many people ask why, why I’ve decided to study this…and to that I say- why not?

Imagine if the world was just engineering and coding etc? Humans need stories and art – to bring light to their life. To escape from the tediousness. At the end of the day. 

The humanities create community, culture, and impact. STEM of course does too, is important in our society and for the trajectory of our future…but so are the humanities.

They make us…human. They remind us, that we are more, we have a past that affects our present, and that can also help us create a better future. 

How to be a real teacher in the 21st Century?

Some people think that anybody who goes to school and teaches is a good and helpful teacher. They think it is an easy job, and the main responsibility of the teacher is just to deliver the information to the students, especially, when some countries allow people to have their jobs as teachers when they finish their undergrad with a degree in education. So, they allow them to teach without having a license that proves they are qualified to teach our kids. I think this is a big problem that faces the education.

A real teacher is the one who delivers the information to students ensuring they have received it correctly. The teacher facilitates the learning to make it more effective for students, and he/she applies activities and use technologies and educational tools to make the educational process easier. The teacher tries to solve the learning problems and consider the students’ needs. In addition, the real teacher is who has the humanity, kindness, and the biggest desire in teaching to help students in learning not who works just because he/she has the job.

I remember when I start studying the English language at a school in the United States. I had a teacher who was very ineffective and lazy. As an international student, I was looking for learning in every moment because I know the English language is the master key for completing my higher education here in the United States. But, having the class with that teacher made the learning difficult for me, and I faced more issues that cannot be resolve without learning through this course. However, I have asked to change the class to be with another instructor who was very helpful and amazing. He made the learning easier for me and other students and tried to use many activities and be very helpful and friendly with the students to make the learning effective and the environment fun and useful. Thus, from this experience, I learned to be a great, helpful, and real teacher to facilitate the learning and help in the growth of this community in the 21st century.

Teaching Humility to Stop Stealing Dreams

So, last post I plan to have under the GEDI header for a while.

My reflection from this last week’s readings (mainly Dan Edelstein’s educator manifesto “Stop Stealing Dreams“) surrounds my own teaching philosophy. As I said at the start of this blog, these posts are exercises in humility and invitations to learn. But to learn what? Well, in my case, mainly how to teach criminology.

But that’s not all. Criminology, is by its very nature, controversial. What perspective do I teach from? A focal concerns perspective, where I assume that members of the criminal justice system adopt a humanitarian yet dispassionate or rational attitude towards sentencing? How then, do I address the concerns of those most victimized by the criminal justice system, which constantly makes decisions on the basis of race, sex, or ethnicity? Going deeper, how do I look my students in the eye and ask for their trust and cooperation when I’m teaching something that largely erases their perspectives, their experiences, and can be used to justify injustice? By the same token, how do I address the fact that this framework does have evidence supporting it in certain situations, is often a reflection on community opinion, and is important to understand for students who might be considering a career in criminal justice or criminology?

In other words, I not only need to transfer information and guide interpretations, I also need to teach students how to talk about and think about controversial topics, how to rectify how systems work with the values they extol, and how historical injustices affect our current everyday lives.

And what’s the value of that? Well, to quote Edelstein:

When we teach a child to make good decisions, we benefit from a lifetime of good decisions. When we teach a child to love to learn, the amount of learning will become limitless. When we teach a child to deal with a changing world, she will never become obsolete. When we are brave enough to teach a child to question authority, even ours, we insulate ourselves from those who would use their authority to work against each of us. “

But to teach these, I have to learn these. Well, how do I go about doing that?

You guessed it, humility.

The humility that allows me to let go of the safe and established but ineffective educational models, even though I am put in a more vulnerable position.

The humility that allows me to step away from an authoritarian classroom and encourage my students to decide the course of our discussion and, by extension, curriculum.

The humility that allows me to, as Edelstein puts it, commit to learn even though I recognize that I might fail.

And make no mistake, I fully expect to fail in some of my efforts. But if I don’t try, I don’t learn. If I don’t learn, I can’t meaningfully teach. And if I can’t meaningfully teach, then I am not helping to calibrate passion or dreams, I am in effect, encouraging at least a partial abandonment of pursuing those passions. I am not only wasting time, I am stealing dreams.

And that is one thing I will never willingly do.

Thank you for following my posts so far. I hope you’ll come back for my updates!

Including the Human Aspect in Animal Sciences

Very often within class in Animal and Dairy Science, we place the animals we study in a hypothetical utopia of sorts. It is just the animal and their surroundings. They have enough food to eat, the climate is ideal, and the only illnesses are those clearly defined or those with the perfect example symptoms. Obviously this is not the case. The temperature fluctuates throughout the year. Some crops are better than others in for the use in feed. And not every sickness is as easy to diagnose as the textbooks let on. But one aspect that I feel is not touched upon in most classes is the human one, or rather the role of the actual farmers. Because the animals are the focus on the industry/business of animal agriculture, we tend to forget about the owners, managers, and staff that work day in and day out on these farms. They only have but so many hours in the day, and more importantly, so much money to spend on their animals.

The class I teach is a senior level course that focuses on visiting real commercial dairy farms, evaluating their current processes, and providing a thorough recommendation on how they can improve their farm. It extremely easy to just go in, provide the staff with recommendations, and leave thinking “Yeah we did a good job. That farm will be fine.” As one of the only classes that uses a real dairy farm in its lessons, I have to make sure that the students consider the human limitations to each aspect of the farm as well as the emotional impact the operation may have on them. Most of the families of owners of these dairies have been running the farm for decades, passing on the operation with each new generation. Sometimes the “easiest” answer might be to say close the farm, sell the cows, start a different business, but obviously that is not taking the livelihood of the farmers and staff into consideration.

It can get a little frustrating as an instructor, as this is the first time the students usually have to deal with messy/incomplete records or have to handle a case study that has a lot of limitations. When I was reading “How is Innovation Taught?” by Dan Edelstein, the discussion of innovative thinking in the humanities compared to STEM really stuck me as something to consider when developing my own courses. He says “that [humanities] students are required to practice innovative thinking earlier on in their studies” than those in STEM. At least in animal sciences, we only implement this sort of thinking either during graduate studies or maybe in senior level course. Maybe I should be teaching my courses in a similar manner? Or encourage those who teach the introductory courses to implement something similar, rewarding the students who have innovative or creative solutions to an unconventional problem? As I move closer to a faculty position, I’ll have to keep this in mind when developing my own curriculum. This could encourage more individuals to pursue a career related to research or at least help those who want to go into industry/be consultants develop creative solutions to on farm problems. It also could instill the practice fo critical pedagogy further, getting students to question the currently industry solutions and innovating those to adapt with the changing attitudes towards agriculture.

I also might advocate for developing a course related to humans in agriculture. We already have ethics and welfare courses, but again these focus on decisions about the animal. The hypothetical course could focus on the human side of animal science. What sort of emotional tolls are placed on those running agriculture businesses? What combination of factors lead to fatigue/exhaustion in running a dairy? What sort of recommendations/advice do real farm owners and managers want to hear and how should it be phrased? Overall, it may focus on taking the current “clean cut” cases from textbooks and examining how that would impact the farmer. I don’t know how popular the class would be, but it could be a new opportunity to implement the human side into animal sciences.

Let me know what you think. Would that course be helpful? Are there areas in agriculture where the inclusion of humanities could benefit the students? Could the inclusion of agriculture benefit the humanities students? i look forward to hearing from you. Thank you!

Unended quest for meaning and relevance in engineering and humanities education

Introductory note:

Until now I spent a total of ten years as a student in three different engineering schools and completed an MA in liberal education. Besides, I worked briefly as an engineer at a company and spent three years as a lecturer in Industrial and System engineering at a university in Saudi Arabia before starting my Ph.D. at VT in 2017. In this blog, I will try to reflect on my experience in studying engineering and humanities which relate to this week readings. It is still an unended quest, but I hope it could help me and the readers in connecting some dots.


I did my undergraduate degree in electrical engineering (EE). Majority of the EE classes that I studied were taught through pure lecturing. The role of the teachers in those classes was mainly transmitting knowledge to students through a top-down approach and then examine students’ learning through well-structured problems with given parameters that are stated, and the students are asked to find the correct solution. Also, the courses were usually taught as technical subjects with emphasis mainly on basic science and abstract mathematics, entirely isolated from its application and context. One the one hand, I used to enjoy sometimes solving EE problems mathematically such as solving challenging puzzles. On the other hand, I remember how painful it was to spend a long time studying uncontextualized technical knowledge and solving problems without recognizing its implications in real life. This made me feel sometimes that I was studying something meaningless or useless and the most thing that I will get out of it is a job after graduation to cover my cost of living. This experience was the main reason that encouraged me to continue my graduate study in Industrial Engineering instead of EE since I had the perception that IE has a broader application domain than EE.


In 2010, I completed my BS and worked as an engineer in a company the after two years I received a scholarship to pursue a master’s in IE at Arizona State University (ASU). Studying IE allowed me to build on my engineering background and develop more of a business mindset. However, I recognized early in my study of the IE program that focused on equipping students with technical skills and business topics to reduce the cost and maximize profit for the private sector while lacked an emphasis on social and environmental issues, a deficiency in many engineering programs. This influenced my decision to study social science while continuing my master’s in IE resolve this deficiency in my educational background and expand my ability to conduct interdisciplinary research. Therefore, I joined the Social Transformation School at ASU and completed a master’s in Social and Cultural Pedagogy.

During this second master’s program, I was introduced to critical theories which enabled me to recognize political and ideological biases in education. My master’s thesis was on educating engineers to work humanitarian to serve marginalized communities and this changed many of my former views about engineering education. Out of this research, I recognized the dominance of neoliberal ideology in engineering education, which indoctrinate engineers to work within its constraint and respond blindly to market forces without considering the need for structural change in the profession to prioritize public interest and serving society at large. Also, I realized from studying the history of engineering that it has been formed by trends in technology, society, economics, and politics which make it socially-constructed field, not merely objective science shaped primarily by experiments in labs and pure technical knowledge. Our attitudes toward engineering hinge, to a large extent, on what we believe about the nature of the knowledge underlying them. Unlike, scientists, engineers work with a world of their creation which by nature should include more subjectivity.

I learned a lot from studying humanities courses. However, I do not agree that studying any humanity course would improve student professional skills (critical thinking, communication, etc..). Not all the courses I studied in liberal arts enhanced my professional skills or enriched my thoughts. On the one hand, some of the classes I took – especially in my undergrad- were taught precisely like conventional engineering courses through lecturing which made them so dull. Moreover, the assessment in these courses was mainly based on multiple choice exams which assume an objective view of knowledge (i.e., choose the correct answer) and do not promote critical thinking. Actually, I found many engineering students take such courses to raise their GPA, since getting high grades in such classes just requires memorizing the material to answer the exam questions.

On the other hand, my experience in taking graduate-level courses in liberal arts was so fruitful since most of these classes were taught through discussion and dialogue. The class discussions enhanced my communication skills and critical thinking. Taking these courses helped me to get rid of the linear and fragmented way of thinking. After these classes, I noticed that I started to analyze issues from multiple perspectives and based on a holistic approach. I can conclude after reflecting on this experience that engineering education researchers should not take it for granted that liberal art courses promote professional skills since, in the end, this depends highly on how these courses are taught. In my opinion, even a core engineering course could develop professional skills if it was taught through learner-centered approaches and in an interdisciplinary manner. I think integrating liberal art concepts in engineering courses is more effective than teaching engineering students pure humanities courses in anthropology or psychology. For instance, before coming to Virginia Tech, I studied at ASU a class on theoretical views of learning (EDU505). The course covered fundamental theories on learning and knowledge (e.g. behaviorism, cognitive, positivism, constructivism..etc). The course was very rich and informative for me. However, it was not clear to me how I will be using these theories I learned in this course in engineering education context until I took a class at VT on Fundamentals of Engineering Education (ENGE5014) which covered similar content of (EDU505) but with more focus on engineering context. Revisiting what I learned at EDU505 in an engineering context was more exciting, and I was able to connect to the material and reflect on the discussion more efficiently.


This experience enabled me to recognize the effectiveness of interdisciplinary teaching, especially in engaging students’ prior knowledge and experience. It is quite difficult for engineering students to connect what they learn in social sciences class with their engineering background if they studied social science concepts in a separate course. Therefore, I think integrating liberal art concepts in engineering courses might be more effective than teaching engineering students pure humanities courses. Of course, engineering students could take whatever classes they would like in humanities as elective, and they might be quite useful( if they were taught adequately ) for enlightenment purposes, building character, fulfilling personal interests and acquiring general knowledge, but my argument here is about the best way to achieve engineering schools educational objectives from introducing liberal arts courses ( i.e make engineering students better engineers not speaking about making them better citizen. That would be a different argument)



Connecting the Dots: Overcoming my Forgotten Self to New Beginnings

This is it. The one blog post to connect what I have learned throughout the contemporary pedagogy course to showcase full understanding and mastery of the subjects taught. But this is not true and in my mind does a disservice to the course itself. A lot of challenging topics and discussions happened in an environment … Continue reading Connecting the Dots: Overcoming my Forgotten Self to New Beginnings

Connecting the Dots

I did a master in applied mathematics at Virginia Teach. I was a teaching assistant helping students understanding class material, answering their questions, and sometimes grading their exams. During the last semester in my masters’ program, I had the opportunity to teach my own class. There was a mentor for the class, and several other teaching assistants who were teaching the same class. We meet regularly, we follow the same pattern, same exams, same lessons’ plans, but everyone was responsible about preparing his own lectures, homework assignments and grading. I was very happy to teach, since that was the first time I do what I was dreaming to be: a higher education teacher.

Taking the contemporary pedagogy class changed my view about teaching. It opened my eyes to new concepts which I didn’t think about them before. It raised a lot of questions in my mind and kept me think deeply about what is teaching? How can we teach effectively? What should we consider in our teaching methodologies (diversity, inclusion, learner-centered, technology,…)? How can we assess students’ learning: assessment VS grading? It showed me the importance of critical pedagogy, the importance of problem-based learning and a lot of other interesting things.

Certainly, all of this, will help me improve my teaching style and will keep me continuously looking for strategies and ideas to become a better teacher.


Part 23, “And yet we isolate students instead of connecting them” of Seth Godwin’s STOP STEALING DREAMS caught my attention this week. I felt isolated during my entire undergraduate program. I was lucky to have one or two friends in any of my classes. Like Godwin said, it’s because all assignments, tests, quiz, and homework are done individually for the most part. This is especially true for science disciplines, where everything is rote memorization, even the upper-level classes.

Biology, chemistry, anatomy, athletic injuries, exercise physiology, nutrition across the lifespan, even organic chemistry lab, whatever class you wanted to name, the course structure of the majority of my undergraduate classes was the exact same. We’d have our multiple choice tests, online quizzes, and homework assignments. If there weren’t homework assignments in a class, you would be expected to take tests every 3 weeks. This made it really difficult to get to know the other students in the class. If you weren’t able to make friends in your major, you likely wouldn’t have anyone to study with for the tests or anyone to ask questions about the homework assignments. You were isolated from everyone else who had friends within the major. I feel like the most successful students in my major were the students who had made friends early on, like in their first year, and continued through the program with the same set of friends.

“Oh but a solution would be to talk to whoever you’re sitting next to in class and make friends with them so you can study together.” That’s not easy. Especially if that person is introverted, shy about meeting people, or if everyone in the class is different from them. I was the latter. My career goals did not match any of my classmates, I wasn’t interested in the same hobbies, I didn’t participate in club activities that were related to my discipline, and I wasn’t interested in finding a physical therapist to shadow with. For the most part, students in my major (nutrition and exercise) were interested in a limited number of careers, becoming a physical therapist, physician’s assistant, or a dietitian. I wanted to do research in a public health setting. I thought I was in the wrong major because I wasn’t meeting anyone with similar interests.

I only had three friends who were in my major and I met them externally through my social clubs. Two of them were a year ahead of me so we didn’t have our core classes together. My major is the 5th largest major on campus and yet I had such difficulty making friends and meeting people through my classes. My friends in other majors, such as business or engineering, always had a solid group of friends that would study for exams together, work on homework assignments together, and, lacking in my program, do group projects together. We criticize our engineering and business programs for their issues with teamwork but we often overlook our science programs where there is virtually no teamwork opportunities.

I made my first in-major friend my senior year. She and I shared the same interests; we wanted to pursue a graduate degree in some sort of public health program and work in research. How did I meet her? We were two out of five students in a new class that our department was testing, Food and Nutrition Toxicology. The class centered around discussions and presentations. How did we both individually decide to take the class? We found that the course content was interesting and seemed applicable to our research interests. Also, we both struggled in traditional classroom formats.

No Wrong Answers

I have been a Teaching Assistant for the Food Microbiology Lab Course for the past two years (one year at NC State and one here at VT). I always assumed that the class was “hands-on”, “real world”, and “thought-provoking”, but with what I have learned this year in Contemporary Pedagogy, I realized that I wrong. Lab exercises provide instruction for students to follow and complete the work but don’t ask students to question the process behind it or innovate. The labs all relate to a specific microorganism that is isolated and grown on a nutrient agar plate. Students come back to observe these plates and record the results. Many have become so focused on the plates and worry when they don’t get the bacteria to grow as they need to. They chalk it up to failure immediately and do not consider why “X” organism may have not grown as well as it should have.

Seth Godin’s TedxYouth Talk had a part where he talked about an activity he did with people where he brought in a bunch of blocks and asked people to take four and form whatever word, sequence, acronym, etc. with them. He stated that people hated this activity because there was no one right answer. I love this statement because it means that everyone’s interpretations of what they have are different. In addition, students are “collecting” the information on the microorganism, but are not “connecting” the results to other areas. Relating this back to the class, something I’ve included in my Teaching Philosophy is:

“For students’ laboratory activities, I aim to challenge students to critically analyze their data, make conclusions, and discuss their work. There are times with lab where they do not work out as intended, and these are moments where students are asked about what could be done differently next time. It is valuable for students to realize that experiments fail and that learning from these mistakes is what matters.”

I believe that failure is okay. Innovation occurs in the fields sometimes due to failure. Yes, Food Science and Food Microbiology may be characterized as a “conservative” field due to its reproducibility, according to Edelstein’s article, but these changes through tinkering, transforming, and revising what is already there, is what leads to innovative ways of solving problems. Creativity and innovation can be applied with the help of questioning what is already out there. We can learn alongside and teach our students this intellectual process. Rather than making labs like a recipe that can be followed by every student (with hopes of reproducibility), varying and differing what is done can be beneficial.


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