Engineering department brings education to the real world

By Flint Frohman and Mark Platt

Many here at BSM probably know someone in the engineering department, but many outside the class may not know what happens in the hands-on program.

The BSM engineering class is a unique program, with a high level of autonomy over what projects and activities one does in the class. “I would say it’s about building creative confidence in kids, it’s about getting out of the way of student potential while giving them some skills to be able to solve real problems,” Ms. Anne Dougherty, Chair of the Engineering Department and Program Director for the Research, Entrepreneurship, and Design Department, said.

The class is all about giving students expertise and necessary skills for the real world that will carry far beyond their time in school. “We like to think of the work that we’re doing as bringing the real world into the right now for students,” Dougherty said.

BSM is different in that students are encouraged to pursue projects that they truly care about, and are given the opportunity to do so. “I think what makes the engineering department at Benilde so unique is the opportunities for choice and voice for students. That we want kids to work on projects, and build skills that they authentically care about […] My goal isn’t that students know what I know, it’s that they know more than what I know and that I get to learn through their curiosity,” Dougherty said.

The teachers are all about being on the same level as the student and want them to pursue things they are actually interested in. “We are walking shoulder-to-shoulder with students, instead of dragging students along, and that’s inspiring, that’s what makes it fun to come to work,” Dougherty said.

We have a lot of fun together, and so, I think the fact we have fun together is also contagious in the classroom and the students see that we have fun.”

— Ms. Dougherty

While you do gain technical experience in the engineering program, students also learn how to work together and gain skills necessary for the real world. “The skills that the engineering department values and fosters and that I think are the most important are creative confidence, and collaboration. You can learn technical skills all day long, and I think it’s important, don’t get me wrong, but being able to know that you can solve real-world problems, and work with people of all different backgrounds, and experiences, and interests, to do something you couldn’t do by yourself, that’s the most exciting part,” Dougherty said.

The engineering department places a strong emphasis on teamwork and learning how to work with each other effectively. “We can do more together than we can do by ourselves and the sooner you learn that, the better you’ll be able to serve your community, your world, everybody’s better when we learn how to do things together,” Dougherty said.

The teachers leading the engineering program enjoy their jobs, and they believe that attitude is good for the class. “We have a lot of fun together, and so, I think the fact we have fun together is also contagious in the classroom and the students see that we have fun […] I think the other thing that’s really fun is when you have a student have that moment of self-realization that they can do something that they didn’t think they could do something previously,” Dougherty said.

The students enjoy the high degree of creative freedom that they are offered in the class and appreciate the help given to them by teachers along the way. “What I like most about BSM is that you have so much creative freedom, you could have probably one of the dumbest ideas ever and the engineering teachers will fully support you and help you turn it into something worthwhile and amazing,” senior engineering student Cooper Hansen said.

This story was originally published on Knight Errant on February 18, 2020.