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BS/MEng Mechanical Engineering
Clifton Park NY

Keep it Outside the Box

(April 04 2012) Written by: Alissa Anderson in Co-op

“Functional Fixedness” has been a buzz word circulating in my world over the past few months. The concept refers to the human tendency to limit the abilities of an object based on traditional use. For example - when was the last time you used a fork? Breakfast? Lunch? Dinner? Those are the typical responses. We are limited by the common food-related usage of the instrument. Did you know students at RIT commonly use forks as door stops in the residence halls? One student had the ability to think past the tradition fork “box,” and apply the device in a new manner... arguably revolutionizing dorm life.

Functional Fixedness is also evident in the daily patterns and repetition in our lives. Today marked the one month anniversary of my current coop. Thirty days ago I was exploding with the fantasies of what California would deliver. Four weeks later, I find myself chin deep in serious engineering - loving every second of the experience, but forgetting the amazing campus I was working on, and the variety of other jobs running on campus.

Today I participated in an intern presentation skills workshop. The afternoon was designed by University Relations to develop intern public speaking and delivery skills. We were instructed to arrive prepared with a five minute presentation about our current projects or about the group we work in. I entered the workshop ready to chat about mechanically innovative devices, and realized I have fallen victim to functional fixedness... I have forgotten the company, like RIT, is more than just engineering... today I listened to presentations from students working everywhere from retail, to web design, marketing, software, reliability, safety, wellness, engineering and computing. So many different skills sets, background, visions, and goals... all applied to support the same “function” - promoting the company brand.

It’s important to stay in touch with those working beside you, and to avoid slipping into the repeated and “traditional” thought. Keep it outside the box.

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