De Gregorio, one of 21 educators named Engineering Unleashed Fellow
Dr. Michael De Gregorio ponders engineering problems while sitting among superheroes.
Canvas wall art and framed prints in his office on the third floor of Grand Canyon University’s Engineering Building celebrate Captain America, Batman, the Amazing Spider-Man, and the mightiest superhero of them all , a desktop figure of a wild-haired Albert Einstein clutching an E=mc2 sign.
These superheroes are all doing amazing things, but then again, so is he: as they focus on fighting injustice, he improves the world by exercising his powers as an exceptional teacher.
It is his work as an educator that the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network (KEEN) recently recognized, naming the Chair of GCU’s Mechanical Engineering Program as one of its Engineering Unleashed Fellows. It’s an honor that comes with a $10,000 grant to further her work in the classroom.
De Gregorio is one of 21 Engineering Unleashed Scholars for 2022 from 16 higher education institutions across the country recognized for their leadership in undergraduate engineering education.
The scholarship is another example of GCU’s partnership with the Kern Family Foundation.
The foundation awarded the GCU a $3.2 million grant to develop an accelerated pastoral training program in 2019, as well as a $2.27 million grant earlier this year to improve character education in K-12 schools.
And College of Science, Engineering and Technology biomedical engineering professor Dr. Kyle Jones was named a KEEN Rising Star just a few months ago.
It’s not surprising, said CSET’s assistant dean of engineering. Dr. Richard Mulskithat De Gregorio received the Engineering Unleashed honor: “He is always looking for new ways to engage his students with active learning techniques so that they are encouraged to learn difficult concepts.”
The process to be named a Fellow began with De Gregorio’s initiative to participate in one of the faculty development workshops offered by Engineering Unleashed, a community of over 4,000 engineering faculty and staff who network and share projects, modules, experiences, etc.
The goal? To create entrepreneurial engineers who will contribute to the good of society.
After this three-day workshop, called “The Problem-Solving Studio”, and after a year of peer coaching, De Gregorio created a learning module for one of his classes, which he shared on the Engineering Unleashed website.
“That’s where the money is on this website,” he said of the multitude of resources, called “maps,” shared by engineering teachers that professors can use in their own classroom. “If you teach engineering, and let’s say you want an activity for your class in statics, there are tons of them.”
De Gregorio, who teaches dynamical systems, said there was a shortage of shared activities for the subject he teaches.
“There are currently 75 cards on Unleashed that reference dynamic systems out of 2,121 cards. … That’s a very small percentage. That’s an underrepresented population. considered one of the most difficult for students.
The activity he created allowed his students to practice creating diagrams of systems, creating mathematical models, and using state space representation. Once their models were complete, they created a simulation of the system through Simscape to learn how adjusting system parameters changes the output response.
“He was very well received” by his engineering students, De Gregorio said of the classroom activity, and he was also well received by his coaching peers, who nominated him for the scholarship.
Less than 10% of faculty development participants have been named KEEN Fellows.
“Mike is truly an ambassador of excellence for your institution,” said the KEEN Program Director. Dr. Douglas Melton.
What the honor means to De Gregorio is that he will be able to use the grant and his connections to the KEEN community to help GCU students become stronger engineers.
“For me, personally, I can add some pretty cool stuff to any of my classes,” said De Gregorio, who rarely misses a day at GCU wearing one of his signature bow ties.
The project he designed as a result of his scholarship for his ESG 455 Dynamic Systems & Lab class, an upper-level engineering class, is to design a steering wheel vibration isolation system that will reduce the vibrations felt by the driver while driving.
The project is an offshoot of research he did for his PhD, which aimed to understand how humans move their hands so he could recreate those movements in artificial reflexes for a robotic or prosthetic hand.
The steering wheel vibration isolation system is something he hopes can help people with a condition called hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS). It is a type of neuropathy seen in long-haul truckers, NASCAR drivers, or those who drive off-road vehicles for long periods of time.
“I found it interesting that vibrations can cause neurological damage. It was an accident, of course,” he said of the disease in his past research. “But it’s a problem that can be solved by engineering. … If you can implement a way to reduce the vibrations you see over a long period of time, you can minimize the negative effects of vibrations on the health of the human body.
De Gregorio said there were no real end users with this project, “but we have vibration experts who are going to come and talk to students about it,” he said.
The grant “will help us bring more resources to students. This will help us involve more students. It will also help us involve more teachers.
It will also subsidize faculty salaries during the summer so that collected project data can be curated for publication in academic journals.
Ultimately, what being an Engineering Unleashed Fellow means to De Gregorio is having even more resources to help students succeed.
“If we can get more engineering activities that they are interested in, their success will be much higher,” he said, like a true engineering education superhero.
Contact GCU Senior Editor Lana Sweeten-Shults at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.
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