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Department Sees Success Despite Pandemic

Members of the Sustainabrew team working in a garage.

Members of the Sustainabrew senior design team working on their project before COVID-19. From left to right: Caroline Stephens, Emma Parks (rear), Kadee Klimowicz (front), MSE’s Chris Wetteland, and Sean Lee.

As COVID-19 spread to Tennessee, CEE joined UT in prioritizing human health to work remotely in quarantine. Like many disciplines, engineering is not one that can be replaced with virtual learning alone; there will always be a need to congregate for in-person group work, such as senior design projects.

But, even though the global pandemic shook up the way CEE faculty, staff, and students were able to finish out the spring semester, the community proved to be resilient in the face of change.

As anyone who has been through the CEE undergraduate program knows, the senior design projects are an exciting event where seniors who have worked on a community project get to share their goal, process, and results–not just with each other, but also with the community partners who come for the presentations. Even though this year’s seniors were not able to share their capstone projects in person, they did manage to quickly organize themselves to present their projects virtually.

“Nothing will replace the events that were missed or the final pats on the back from mentors and clients,” said Senior Lecturer Jenny Retherford. “But students did a great job of pivoting to share their results virtually. While it was a challenge, the win here extends to the fact that these projects did not fall away once students couldn’t meet in their groups.”

CEE students, especially seniors, persevered, and the administration agrees that this graduating class will likely be stronger for understanding that the best laid plans might sometimes meet with forces outside of their control.

I think in the long-run, being able to show that they managed to graduate despite a global pandemic wreaking havoc on society will actually make them better engineers, because in the real world there are many times when you are forced to adapt and problem solve quickly.”

—Jennifer Retherford

Other areas of the department benefited from innovation. For instance, in CE205 (Professional Development I) Retherford created “Learning Community” sessions for the last few weeks of the semester. During these sessions, students performed peer reviews focused on specific technical writing techniques.

Retherford invited students from Lecturer Sarah Mobley‘s CE301 lab to participate, fostering more connection between different classes.

“We expect to continue this system next semester and hope to maintain a dedicated activity focused on improving writing and getting folks to meet across some of the writing-intensive classes,” said Retherford.

Just another way that classes marched onward, even through trying times.