Experiential learning: teamwork, collaboration, and the rigorous pursuit of purpose

Friday, Oct. 22, 2021

Dedicated students, distinguished colleagues and dear friends,

Happy Friday!

Taking advantage of our great fall weather, I went out for a walk Wednesday evening and noticed that one of our design/assembly spaces was buzzing with activity. About two dozen of our students from multiple disciplines in several design teams were working on their projects. I walked in to say hello and to find out what they were working on. Cars number 57 and 66 were in the making and two Mars rovers were being assembled, while in other areas students were working on the control systems and testing their design creations.

It dawned on me that at S&T, we’ve elevated experiential learning to a higher level. What I witnessed was teamwork, collaboration, and the rigorous pursuit of purpose. Experiential learning at S&T becomes an ingrained culture that results in a world championship title and it doesn’t just happen in the classroom or in the laboratory. It happens in our student design centers, in our senior design courses, during co-ops and internships, and in service-driven outreach to the community and to other countries.

We have 150 years of experiential learning under our belt. One of our earliest graduates, L.R. Grabill (class of 1878), said it well when he explained that he and his classmates “work not only with their heads, but with their hands” and “delight to unravel the mysteries and solve the problems which nature lays before us.”

Much has changed since Grabill’s day, but the essence of his remarks remains at the core of the S&T experience. The teamwork, the spirit of collaboration, the delight in solving wicked problems, the commitment to excellence – these attributes define today’s S&T student as well, resulting in the gold rush of Career Day where national and international companies try to tap into that “can-do” attitude and recruit our graduates.

At S&T the culture of teamwork, collaboration, and pursuit of purpose begins as soon as our students come to campus. During Opening Week, or “O Week,” as it is known, our new students form teams and immediately get to work on their very first S&T experiential learning project, “Project X.” Each team works together to design and build a remote-controlled car that they ultimately race at the end of O Week. Along the way, each student group collaborates on games and puzzles designed to strengthen teamwork skills. Through the process, the teams learn valuable lessons – not only about team-building and design, but also about how to fail in a safe environment and how to bounce back and learn from those failures. In all my years in engineering and higher education, I had never seen anything like it!

This year’s O Week was equally impressive, and one that should shatter the “boy’s club” stereotype of engineering, as the top five Project X teams were all made up of women. Kudos to the Bionic Babez, 6 Kelvin, The Maca-Miners, The Lightning McQueens and Best of the Best!

O Week is just the beginning of the S&T experience for our students. As they progress in their academic studies, they have many opportunities to apply the lessons of the classroom to real-world situations and learn how to provide critical contributions to critical challenges.

Many of our students get involved with our student design teams in the Kummer Student Design Center. Others pursue leadership positions in any of our 200-plus clubs, departmental or professional associations, or our outstanding fraternities and sororities. Still others engage in undergraduate research with their professors. Others earn valuable real-world experience as student employees through co-ops and internships. And many, many of our students do all of the above and more – while still upholding the standards of academic excellence that make S&T students so valuable to future employers. By their final year, they further hone their teamwork and technical skills through capstone design projects specific to their disciplines.

Through it all, at every step of the S&T experience, our students learn to work on teams, fail and recover, solve problems, become safety conscious, lead and be led, create, innovate, and prepare to “unravel the mysteries and solve the problems which nature lays before us,” in the words of our 1878 graduate, Mr. Grabill. Our students emerge as “street-ready engineers,” as you’ll hear countless employers describe our workplace-ready graduates.

That, my friends, is the S&T experience – teamwork, collaboration, and the rigorous pursuit of purpose.



P.S. – Check out the latest news from S&T:


Mohammad Dehghani, PhD
mo@mst.edu | 573-341-4116

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