Hands-on Twist to a Teaching Tradition

Freshman advising seminars are a half-century-old tradition at MIT, giving students the opportunity to explore topics outside the core curriculum in a small group setting while receiving valuable mentoring from faculty. Last fall, the Mens et Manus seminar—taught by Dean for Undergraduate Education Dennis Freeman SM ’76, PhD ’86 and Vice President for Open Learning Sanjay Sarma, along with maker czar Martin Culpepper SM ’97, PhD ’00 and MechE senior lecturer Dawn Wendell ’04, SM ’06, PhD ’11—gave that format a hands-on twist.

The goal of the seminar—a workshop in constructing speaker systems from scratch—was to teach roughly 30 incoming undergrads modern engineering methods that related to their large-group General Institute Requirements. The students received accelerated shop training on such tools as a laser cutter and 3-D printer, and learned to program features for their speakers like flashing lights and Bluetooth capability.

“A lot of the topics we covered, such as resonance and frequency response, lined up with lessons in 18.03 or 8.01,” says one of the freshmen from that seminar, Abhinav Venigalla. “It was pretty awesome to take those concepts and apply them in real life.”

To Freeman, whose ideas for phase two of the seminar include turning it into a residence-based freshman learning cohort, this is exactly the point. “The way you kick off your education is so important. It sets the tone for the whole four years,” he says. “It sets the tone for the rest of your life.”