Frank Kelso was named the inaugural holder of the 3M Chair in Experiential Learning for the College of Science and Engineering. A faculty member of the Department of Mechanical Engineering for nearly 20 years, he is bringing real-life experience to the classroom through the CSE First-Year Experience course, now in its fourth year.
Recognizing that many talented students transfer out of STEM degrees after their first two years, the First-Year Experience course is about retention—helping these students see tangible connections between their coursework and their career goals and personal aspirations.
“The first half of the course helps them adjust to college life and figure out their career aspirations, what classes they might want to take, how to settle in, and what sorts of activities and clubs are available here at the University. The second part of the course involves a hands-on experiential learning project, which last term was to build a sled,” Kelso said.
The project required all 1,000 CSE freshmen, in terms of five, to build an artistic and structurally sound sled from cardboard and PET plastic. Teams used their ingenuity, as well as their math and science skills, to make the cardboard strong enough to support a person. Once completed, teams raced their sleds at Mariucci Arena to see which went the farthest and the straightest.
“That’s where the experiential learning comes in—the fact that they can apply their knowledge, and fail, and learn from their failure, and then modify their solution,” said Kelso. “It’s a cycle, where they try something, they learn from failure, they incorporate the experience into the next try, and then hopefully they get it.”
The 3M Chair and First-Year Experience course is made possible through a generous gift from the 3M Foundation. “Without the 3M funding, I would be up to my eyeballs in grading papers and putting together assignments. It’s basically enabling this whole experiential project and course,” Kelso added.