When Jay Grossman, Ph.D., assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, left his day job at a consulting firm to pursue his doctorate, he did not know what to expect. He was certain of his love for teaching, and that ultimately allowed the course of his life to take a meaningful turn when he became a member of the College of Engineering faculty in 2017.
“When I came to Valpo, what really struck me was how focused everyone was on the teaching,” Professor Grossman says. “Yeah, we do research, but it was mostly all about the teaching and guiding students. That’s exactly what I knew I wanted to be doing.”
Providing students with hands-on learning opportunities, such as field trips and service learning opportunities that allow experiential learning, has always been important to Professor Grossman. He has found that Working Across Vocations Everywhere through Service (WAVES) has delivered life-changing opportunities to his students and the countries they serve.
“WAVES is a student organization that really sets the bar for learning opportunities that truly make a difference,” Professor Grossman said. “It’s inclusive for all paths. There used to be Engineers Without Borders, but now we are more inclusive. We have teachers and health professionals who wouldn’t have typically been part of our group before.”
The collaborative nature of the group allowed Professor Grossman, along with colleague Selina Bartels, associate professor of education, to interdepartmentally organize a trip to Nicaragua to accomplish two goals: learn and serve. The group was split into two teams: future educators there to work with local students and teachers, and engineers (along with a nursing student) who installed solar panels to power a local well.
“The goal was the local church wanted to run its well from solar power, and there was a church in the U.S. that donated the money for the project,” Professor Grossman said. “At first, it was going to be the well only, but then the project expanded into the whole church being powered by solar panels.”
Professor Grossman allowed his students to think independently and assess the situation they encountered, guiding them through a project that would provide life altering results for the community. Because of travel restrictions, the team lacked access to the tools and resources that they originally planned on bringing from the U.S. and were faced with a daunting task that they had to complete in unfamiliar territory, without a backup plan.
My favorite part of these trips is introducing students to a different culture and a different situation. The work we do is important and interesting, but getting that experience in a developing country is great.
“So, we weren’t quite sure if we were going to find the equipment that we needed to accomplish our project,” Professor Grossman said. “We had to rely on finding things locally. We found a good partner that had almost everything we needed except a couple components but we were able to work around that. The students had planned out how big the system was, we worked on that here at Valpo, but we would have liked to have done a better job of mapping out exactly what components we would have but we didn’t find out until the Thursday before we left.”
Despite the challenges, Professor Grossman’s students were dedicated to finishing the mission they set out to accomplish and felt confident in their ability to deliver. And in true Valpo fashion, they did not only deliver, they exceeded expectations and took on another project installing solar panels on a nearby church to provide a more sustainable option for electricity.
“When the system worked up until the moment we left, that was a good feeling,” Professor Grossman said. “We were down to the wire, and when we switched it on it was such a relief. My favorite part of these trips is introducing students to a different culture and a different situation. The work we do is important and interesting, but getting that experience in a developing country is great. And I think the connections that they made with the locals were so valuable not only in their lives as engineers, but as true servant leaders. That’s what we are about at Valpo.”
Professor Grossman has always loved the design portion of his job as an engineer, but found his calling when he became an educator and joined his two passions into a true dedication and commitment to his students. The service trip to Nicaragua allowed students to be a part of a life altering change for a community in need. Through this trip, Professor Grossman allowed his students to leave the classroom and become true engineers and that is the type of learning that exists beyond the classroom.