Kate Leipold

Kate Leipold Headshot

Kate Leipold is a Senior Lecturer in ME for the Kate Gleason College of Engineering. This month, she shares with us how she uses critical thinking to teach students the concept of failing forward and persistence.  If students can embrace failure, they can learn from it, and use it to refine their process and/or designs they will discover there is often more to be learned from the failure than success – a concept that is transferable in attaining both personal and professional success.

1. How Do You Teach Applied Critical Thinking?

I’m teaching 3D modeling to mechanical engineering students. Many of these students come to college with existing CAD modeling experience. In fact, it often may be the high school course that they took that drove their decisions to become an engineer. Instead of teaching this software in the context of how to use it, I focus strongly on the why. Why do we select one dimension, one feature, one assembly constraint or even one modeling package over the many other options available? What will happen with your model at the end of your project or co-op? When you walk away, how will other engineers know your vision and thoughts and intentions? What efforts can be made early in a design to ensure it is easier to implement modifications later on?

2. Why Do You Think Applied Critical Thinking is Important in Your Domain?

In engineering, and in CAD models, at the freshmen level we’re working with ideal scenarios – exact dimensions, perfectly square corners, homogeneous materials, cleanly identified problem descriptions. To help combat some of the side effects of these constraints, I really enjoy having students make the objects, at least in some fashion. Did the parts fit together? Did the motor perform at the max of its capability? What are the tradeoffs of our manufacturing choices? 3D printing or additive manufacture gives the illusion that you can design something and print exactly your design. This ability to create the failure of the design is more important than having it succeed. 

3. Can You Share a Story Where Quality Applied Critical Thinking Was Key to Your Success?

Early in my career, I assumed that my approach to a lot of things was similar to everyone else’s approach. It was fun to grow and discover my uniqueness and appreciate that the diversity of personality styles pulled together created a stronger group than a lot of very similar team members. I tend to have a creative ability lending itself to copious “I have an idea!” moments. While I would love to try all of them and implement many opportunities, I’ve learned to critically think about time availability, as well as effect on evaluations and the need to work within the continuous improvement cycle. This internal review has allowed me to vet some of the best ideas and make them fit in a sustainable implementation.

4. How Do You Use Critical Thinking in Other Areas of Your Life Outside of RIT? 

As a mom of a future college student (about 10 years from now), I’m constantly wondering how I can help him be a great student. Not an A student, but an enthusiastic and inquisitive student.  How can I give him the gift of failure? Similar to how I encourage freshmen to put a little bit of effort in early to make later, more difficult work go smoother, how can I push him to struggle through foundational problem solving skills now, so they are there for him to rely on when the work becomes more difficult later.

5. Any Last Critical Thoughts?

Is my plug in hybrid really better for the environment? How can we fix the broken recycling cycle? When will protecting this earth really become a top priority?