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Jin Lee

Fresh Faces: Elizabeth HassanSeptember 19, 2018

Welcome to Fresh Faces. In this series, we’re highlighting more than 40 Engineering faculty members, all hired in the last five years, who are doing interesting and innovative things in the lab and the classroom.

Liz Hassan joined the Faculty of Engineering as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering in 2017. Hassan recently received an “Educating the Engineer of 2025” funding award worth $20,000 from the Faculty of Engineering. The award supports her project, which aims to increase student participation in extracurricular student teams like Solar Car and Baja.

In her Fresh Faces spotlight, Hassan talks about the influence her parents had on her career, her passion for experiential learning, embracing her artistic side and British cop shows.

On her parents influencing her career path

My parents are by far the most important influence on my career. My dad was a civil engineer and he always talked about engineering as being a creative job in which you can help people. When I was deciding what to study in high school, I briefly considered law and Dad talked me out of it by explaining that lawyers see people on their very worst days, when things have gone badly. But people see engineers when they want something good to happen and something new to be created. The creativity and optimism of engineering still appeals to me.

My mom was a grade school teacher and I often find myself asking her a lot about how to plan my classes and interact with students. Whenever you see scrupulously well-organized kits for my drawing class or elaborately detailed rubrics, that’s very much my mom’s influence coming through.  

My dad was an engineer and my mom was a teacher so I’m an engineering teacher – a near perfect hybrid. 

On experiential learning

In my own work I like to focus on doing. And so, even when I'm teaching a pretty conventional lecture based class, I do something in class to make it a bit more active and experiential. That's one of the elements of my teaching that is working well and that I'm really happy with.

This year I'm starting a new product design class and I'm really excited about it.  The final deliverable for the class is a submission to the James Dyson Award. Students will have a prototype at the end of the course and they can submit it if they choose to. The student demand was huge for this; we actually had to open up another section.

On the rewards of teaching

Working with students and seeing the work that they put together is what I enjoy most about my job. It’s not surprising. Obviously they're bright kids, but sometimes when you see those final projects and they're so polished and well thought out, you are struck with the idea that only four months ago, this student was in high school and now they're producing something that's very thoughtful and excellent.

On her artistic side

I like painting or any kind of hands-on arts and crafts activities. I went to OCAD University for a Master’s in Design in Strategic Foresight and Innovation. At the time, “art school” felt like a departure from the engineering world. It was so radically different from my work in industry. However, it ended up being a good primer for doing my PhD.

There are a lot of approaches to thinking designers use that are helpful for researchers. One approach is that it’s not only fine to throw away work, it’s actually beneficial – it will lead to better ideas.  

Midway through my PhD I basically had to start the whole thing over because of problems with participant recruitment. Art school’s ethos of “there’s no such thing as wasted work” allowed me to reframe that significant setback in a way that led to much more interesting scientific work. I’m pretty flexible about what I like to work on or teach about. To me, it’s all interesting and all enjoyable. Art school was critical in building that curious and open perspective. 

On British cop shows

I watch Netflix while I work; I like the background noise. I like British cop shows the most for some reason, more than American cop shows. The show Scott & Bailey is amazing, one of my favorites, along with “The Fall” and “Happy Valley”.

Inside the classroom…

I like to do a lot of hands-on things. I like active learning more than lecturing. Even though I'm really chatty, I try not to lecture too much.

Outside the classroom…

You know, in this first year at McMaster, the work really is my life, inside and outside of the classroom.