By Alec Arbia, Written Communications Assistant
For the 2022-2023 academic year, Department Head Bryan Huey was elected as the chair for the nationwide association of MSE department heads. This ‘University Materials Council’ (UMC) meets twice a year to share statistics about our programs, lists of students interested in graduate school, and other helpful information. “We also host academic job announcements—it’s been an amazing year for MSE programs across the country, with more than 45 faculty searches over the past 9 months. Most of all though, we are there to share best practices with each other.”
For instance, in 2020 the UMC had several virtual meetings as they realized the magnitude of the looming Covid pandemic. Member programs shared valuable advice on effective lab instruction during Covid, supporting our department communities from afar, approaches to health and safety, and more.
“It really helped us all to collectively figure out ways to best deal with Covid as educators,” Huey remembers. “For example, I believe several programs have now duplicated how we modified our weekly seminars here at UConn. As we shifted to talks online, we encouraged much shorter presentations, and balanced that with substantially more discussion driven by panels of students with overlapping interests. Even after pivoting back to being in person, we’re still benefitting. I don’t think seminar visits have ever been so engaging.”
Professor Huey and the other 5 UMC officers are responsible for organizing the biannual meetings. This past fall, the UMC assembled in Boston coincident with the Materials Research Society Conference. The 65 attendees enjoyed panel discussions focused on undergraduate student recruiting, budgeting, and advice for new department heads. This Spring, 45 heads met in San Diego alongside The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society (TMS) conference. There was an update on student recruiting, discussions on how to leverage artificial intelligence in materials education, and conversations about department culture and inclusivity.
“I’m especially pleased that broad support emerged across the UMC membership for a few nationwide efforts that should benefit materials professionals,” Huey notes. “For one, we’re going to kick off communities of practice for those supporting our teaching labs. This will make it easier for us to share popular lab modules, or to identify the most suitable equipment for an undergraduate lab.”
After speaking about past improvements, Huey went on to talk about the future. “I’m personally most excited about another effort, focused on more effectively broadcasting what materials engineers really do, and the impact we have on society. The roughly 130 Materials programs across North America all work so hard on outreach about materials for our own institutions. Now, we aim to collectively create and share such content. Initially there will be 2 main approaches. One will target high school students, featuring short video clips from recent alumni about the interesting problems they solve as materials engineers. The other will assemble video segments, audio clips, and other news items, from major leaders in industry about the impact of advanced materials for their various technologies – and more broadly, for society.”
The UMC meetings also historically feature a carefully structured ‘brag session’. Every professor is allowed 1 slide, and 60 seconds, to share highlights about their own program. “As the UMC chair, that’s one of the hardest jobs – holding professors to just 1 minute. It’s been especially hard for me representing UConn, as there’s so much to be proud about. Student successes, faculty innovations, major awards, and of course Science One. We are envied by many right now, not just on campus but across the country. UConn Materials is just such a great place to be.”
Published: April 17, 2023