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Week of April 30, 2012

CoE works to reconnect its graduates through online initiative

A fire crackles in the woods at night. In the distance, an owl hoots.

“So what is sustainability?” a voice asks, as gloved fingers add more kindling to the fire. “It’s about what we all do together, and it’s about collective action.”

The voice belongs to Steve Skerlos, associate professor of mechanical engineering, and the scene is from a new video being created as part of a College of Engineering initiative called MconneX.

MconneX manager Sandra Hines says the new project will provide entertaining and educational content to the almost 70,000 engineering alumni through these videos, as well as events and continuing education opportunities — all online and free of charge.

“Our alumni hail from every part of the planet, so connecting with the college and with each other in meaningful ways hasn’t been possible,” says Thomas Zurbuchen, associate dean for entrepreneurial programs who is spearheading the MconneX initiative. “They come from many diverse backgrounds, working in every imaginable sector, leading businesses and driving positive change. They’re a tremendous resource that’s been relatively untouched. We had to find a way to wire everybody together.”

MconneX aims to create that wire by providing informational opportunities in an online, on-demand format. The program has started with a series of videos involving engineering students, faculty and industry leaders to keep alumni engaged with the college long after they graduate.

Steve Skerlos, associate professor in the departments of Mechanical Engineering and Civil and Environmental Engineering, talks about sustainability by firelight on the banks of the Huron River in one of the first MconneX short course videos. Photo by Marcin Szczepanski, College of Engineering.

The videos created through MconneX are unique in that they are offered in a manner that is both informational and engaging, says Hines, who describes them as “more than just an instructor lecturing to a camera.”

The “MichEpedia” section provides quick snapshots of the college’s cutting-edge research and engineering topics through three- to five-minute videos. The longer programs, like that featuring Skerlos, offer an entertaining yet educational look at topics alumni say are important to them, and feature the knowledge of Michigan Engineering faculty, alumni and experts.

“After analyzing the data from a December 2011 alumni survey, it was clear that there was a lot of interest from alumni to stay informed and involved with the college. The survey showed that they’re most interested in learning about leadership, energy, creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship and sustainability, all through an online, on-demand format,” Hines says.

“A connected and engaged alumni body adds value to the experience of our current students,” says Zurbuchen, who also is a professor in the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences. “That is a key part of doing MconneX.”

To encourage that engagement, plans are in the works for future additions to the site, including an area where alumni will be able to sign up as volunteers, attend a variety of events, integrate with Facebook, access academic departments, read college news and more.

“Throughout school, students have Michigan Engineering resources at their fingertips,” Zurbuchen says. “But after graduation, students scatter across the county and around the world. Many of them aren’t aware of the resources that are still available to them. MconneX is set up to help them recognize that success in any engineering field requires that they continue to learn. The program will give them plenty of opportunities to do exactly that.”



Krisztina Fehervary, assistant professor of anthropology, LSA, on her first visit as a child to Hungary: “Everything was so different and bizarre. It was just an upside-down world and I was fascinated with it.”


Center for Research on Learning and Teaching 50th Anniversary celebration opens with president’s panel, 9:30 a.m. May 4, Michigan Union Ballroom.

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