U.Va. Engineering Student Emily Ewell Creates New Course to Feature Top University Professors

Oct. 9, 2006 -- For most students, the regular rigmarole of undergraduate classes and activities is enough. Not so for fourth-year University of Virginia chemical engineering student Emily Ewell — and the 100 other students across Grounds who signed up for the class she created this semester, LASE 360: U.Va.’s Unforgettable Lectures.

Named for its aim of showing students “360 degrees” of the University, LASE 360 is a brand new course which invites a different professor to speak each week on a variety of topics. Ewell, president of the U.Va. Engineering Student Council, created the course to bring a variety of U.Va.’s top professors to students with diverse interests.

Ewell came up with the idea for the course last year. As a University Guide, she had taken a class that featured several renowned U.Va. professors whom she likely would not have had the opportunity to meet otherwise. Despite increasingly flexible schedules within the Engineering School, Ewell said, she found it frustrating that all students did not have that same opportunity. Students were missing out on some of the best U.Va. professors simply because their major concentrations were not closely enough aligned.

Ewell decided to do something about it. With friends’ input, she devised and created an open enrollment class that would feature a different U.Va. professor each week. “What a great idea,” Ewell said, “to try to get U.Va’s best professors together and let them showcase themselves to a diverse group of students.”

The professors, whose interests range from chemistry to religious studies, were selected by student recommendation. After speaking with fourth-year students last year about which professors they wish they had had the opportunity to take a class with, Ewell sent personal letters to professors’ homes, inviting them to participate in one class each throughout this semester. She then met with each professor one-on-one to explain her vision for the course.

The students, whose majors similarly range the gamut, are mostly third- and fourth-year students because, Ewell proudly reports, the course filled up with 100 students by the second day of registration.

“At the University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science, our students are innovative leaders, problem-solvers who are making a positive impact on their environment,” says James H. Aylor, dean of the School. “Emily is a wonderful example of a U.Va. Engineering student who has applied her creativity and leadership skills to improve her surroundings, and I support her in this great effort.”

Paxton Marshall, dean of undergraduate admissions at the Engineering School, says, “Emily Ewell exemplifies the U.Va. Engineering mission to produce leaders for a global technological society. Just as engineers require a broader perspective to function in a world where technology impacts all aspects of life, so universities must transcend the disciplinary divisions that narrow the perspectives of students and faculty. In creating LASE 360,” he adds, “Emily is a pioneer in breaking down these disciplinary barriers.”

The one-credit, pass/fail Unforgettable Lectures course meets each Wednesday from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., in Minor Hall room 125. (See below for a schedule of classes and professors.)

Ewell hopes to see LASE 360 institutionalized after she graduates this May and plans to have students and faculty evaluate the course “so I can see how to make it better next semester.”

LASE 360 Fall 2006 Schedule

All classes are held on Wednesdays from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in Minor Hall room 125.

08/30 Barry Condron (Biology)
09/06 Richard Handler (Anthropology)
09/13 Karin Bonding (Commerce)
09/20 Richard Guy Wilson (Architecture)
09/27 Gus Gerrans (Chemistry)
10/04 Colin Bird (Politics)
10/18 John Portmann (Religious Studies)
10/25 Emily Blanchard (Economics)
11/01 Lucien Bass (Commerce)
11/08 Dana Elzey (Engineering)
11/15 Johan Madson (Education)
11/29 Ryan Nelson (Commerce)