Am I in the Right Room?

I’ve spent the better part of two hours typing a blog that will sit in draft mode until further notice. The gist of the conversation I was hoping to stir concerns our responsibilities as teachers and parents in the avenues our children and students make. Not all engineering students will become engineers. Not all designers become designers. And we should all understand that that is okay.

I switched halfway through my undergraduate from mechanical engineering to industrial design. Don’t get me wrong, I could grasp the concepts, I just couldn’t produce the math. In my professional career as a designer, my area of expertise has always been more function than form, but I’m still not producing the numbers. That’s what engineers are for. And I don’t expect engineers to always get the form right. That’s what designers are for.

Does this mean my math professors didn’t teach me correctly, or did my engineering colleagues have terrible art teachers? No. Most students will be better at one thing over another; it’s how we become specialists in our respective disciplines. But let me pose this, if an art teacher had taught more like an engineer, or the math teacher had thought more like the artist, would things have turned out differently?

I had parents that backed me up when I decided to turn around. I had tears in my eyes when I told them I was quitting one thing to do another. But it was worth it. For all of us. I ended up in a career I didn’t hate with the best teachers I could have asked for. I grew stronger in my relationship with my parents through honesty and open conversations like that one. It changed my life for the better.

Now, I am fortunate to be in an immersive field of study. Industrial designers learn concepts of form and function, conceptualize through drawings, receive feedback from students and teachers both, and iterate through physical models until the final form is delivered, usually a full-scale working prototype. It is extremely satisfying. It requires the input of the student. It requires the student’s peers to make comments and provide feedback. It’s a shame other fields of study do not have this same opportunity.

Or do they? Does this translate to other disciplines? How does a history major build? Is it only though their writing, or does it require physical travel to places of historic significance? Or both? What if you can’t get there from here? What if it’s too cost-prohibitive? What if you’re too ill to go? What if you have obligations outside of academia that we all find ourselves in? What if’s can kill dreams.

I think this a world preparing itself for VR. Advances in the technology are going to shift what we can do, and make accessible the inaccessible. Adbhut wrote a good blog with plenty of questions we still need to examine and answer. Using VR?AR, can we experiment with how we teach engineers through the lens of the artist? Can we create a virtual art class that designs sculpture through the algorithms of human bone growth? What new information will be passed, exchanged, and shared by those students, as was pointed out in our latest GEDI readings?

I am hopeful. It is my opinion we are already providing more avenues for students to learn than ever before. We are beginning to provide the most current of tools and are creating more. The students are also already changing how they learn if given the space. Hopefully we are able to guide them toward meaningful lives, able to help them correct themselves when that path gets rough, and even have the strength to say it’s okay to turn around and find a different path. And hopefully, it is because we’ve already exhausted all other options, and not because we told them they weren’t good enough.