Sheri Sheppard

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My first engineering job was as a summer intern for General Motors in their plant that makes catalytic converters. I saw that engineering was not just theory and problem sets, but was the messy business of manufacturing; for ultimately, engineering is about producing goods, services and prosperity. It involves imagining (and realizing) the unimaginable, coordinating people and materials, worrying about reliability, quality and productivity, and above all never forgetting that the work of an engineer is an ethical undertaking.

After GM I worked for Chrysler, learning about product planning, engine design, product maintenance (by being sent to mechanics school—one of my best job assignments ever!), and more than I though possible about EGR valves. Post-PhD I spent a year with Ford’s Research Lab in Dearborn, MI, working on a small team that was developing a finite element code for simulating vehicle impact performance.

My Detroit experiences are still with me. They lead me to believe that bringing the work of engineers into the classroom makes a lot of sense for motivating students and helping them connect their school learning with the messiness of “real engineering.” To learn more about my teaching philosophy, click here.

My Detroit experiences also sparked my interest in understanding the work of engineers, and prompted me to question the relationships between professional education and professional practice. I have long been driven in to improve engineering, and some of my early research was on developing technical tools for better assessment of structural integrity. But what more important “tool” in engineering than the engineer, her or himself? This basic question have been behind much of my research on engineering education.

I would be negligent if I did not also mention other significant influencers to my teaching and research:

  • my own engineering education (B.S. University of Wisconsin, M.S. University of Michigan-Dearborn, PhD University of Michigan-Ann Arbor)
  • many dear colleagues and mentors, and
  • the thousands of students I have had the privilege of working with over nearly 30 years
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