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Hydrogen Properties for Energy Research (HYPER) Laboratory Cool. Fuel.

A story of presentations

I’m going to let you in on a secret I’ve kept for a long time —

I’ve given talks nearly every day for over a decade but presentations still make me nervous. I used to get so nervous that I’d break out in hives. My hands would get clammy and cold. My knees would stiffen up. I sometimes started stuttering.

A few years back I was so nervous and tired during a presentation that I began hearing an alarm going off in the hallway outside the classroom; only to realize that it was in my head and I’d stopped, mid sentence, on record, for an … » More …

Conflict Communication

The single largest source of waste in all of humanity is conflict. Yet conflict is essential for change. The grand challenge of humanity is having appropriate context for conflict and mechanisms for efficient resolution. So why is it that in all of engineering education we never provide formal training on conflict communication and resolution?

In 5th through 8th grades I was selected by my teachers to participate in an experimental peer-conflict mediation program that had just started in my school district. The premise was simple — teach students how to resolve conflicts among their peers and you’ll have less conflict and less need for administrative … » More …

How to have a meeting

Meetings are the most basic and fundamental form of information exchange in any society, perhaps in all of humanity. Once we developed the ability to talk, having meetings was next, before we could read or write. Yet, thinking back to my education as an engineer, not once do I remember being taught explicit skills for how to have an effective meeting. I’m not aware of a single continuous improvement exercise focusing on effective meetings in my time at WSU. It’s always assumed we have the skills to run a meeting. At the same time it’s commonly assumed that meetings are a waste of time. So … » More …

Initial Conditions

Where do you look when you walk into a space for the very first time?

The majority will look down at the floor to make sure you don’t trip and hurt yourself.

The architect who designed the space looked down too, at the plans and scale models.

But do you ever look up? In the place nobody tends to look? Did they think about this place that nobody tends to look? This place, that nobody tends to look, is it a blind spot?

You might ask yourself several more questions:

Where am I and is this place safe? (Survival)
Who’s here? (Tribal)
» More …

How to reliably get brilliant teams

… build them!

Talk to any researcher and they’ll go on ad nauseum to explain their philosophy for building brilliant teams. It’s just the next step after how to reliably get brilliant students. So why am I adding to the noise with this post? Because when you’re in the middle of building something great, it’s easy to get side tracked and forget your core values and principles; whatever they be.

Think back about the amazing teams you’ve been fortunate to be a part of over the years. Several key factors were likely involved:

Contrasting and complimentary characters — think the A team, Star Trek, … » More …

“It’s like teaching engineers how to negotiate.”

Congratulations! You got the interview. Just don’t mess it up with these common mistakes. What you might not have thought about yet is the negotiation. Whether you realize it or not, the negotiation process usually starts during the interview. So plan ahead and get an early start.

Negotiating has never felt natural for me. It goes with the territory of being an engineer. Everything we do is about working more efficiently, taking only what we need, delivering something that works consistently within the physical bounds allowed by nature, and building our reputation based on the merit of the products we produce. The engineer’s creed … » More …

Welcome Cougs to becoming professionals

Yesterday I stood in the center of the Round in the Spark as one of four faculty to address 270 of our incoming freshman engineers.

I’ve thought about this moment for years — going way back to my time as an undergrad. What would I tell a freshman on their first day as an engineer? What was I told on my first day?

Flashback – briefly – my first day on campus as an undergrad was the start of football camp. The first night of which drunken seniors rounded up the freshman and shaved all of our heads — some better than others. — I’ve … » More …

Despite the statistical ‘evidence’

In high-school I was too light (250 pounds), too week (280 pound bench), too slow (5.5 s 40 yard time) to be a ‘good’ offensive line football player — but somehow managed to lead a team to the 5A state title game, set school rushing records, and land a D1 college scholarship to play for Tom Cable, an offensive-line guru.

In college my SAT scores were too low (1240/1600), GPA too low (3.26/4), GRE scores too low (720/800 quantitative), qualifier scores too low, to be a ‘good’ researcher in mechanical engineering — but somehow managed to win the Outstanding Senior Award in ME at Idaho … » More …

Never _____ what a student should

1. Never teach what a student should — stop holding office hours, hold group study instead; stop pontificating, assign them a forum post/essay instead; stop answering, start questioning.

2. Never present what a student should — stop lead authoring, they need to learn to write; stop presenting at conferences, they need to learn to talk; stop pitching to businesses, they need to reel ’em in.

3. Never design what a student should — stop estimating, they need to learn the “back of the envelope”; stop questioning clients, they need to know when to speak up; stop calling suppliers, they need to know who to talk … » More …

Authority, feedback loops, and the setback

One of the characteristics of the HYPER lab community and alumni is authority and ownership over projects. I work very hard to fulfill the role of coach, a.k.a. service leadership, and to not take ownership of experiments away from the people actually doing the work. This is a fine balance and requires lab wide standards to ensure safety and performance. This scaffolding is a key reason great students keep coming to the lab — freedom to own a difficult project with the necessary coaching and resources to succeed. This is very different from authoritarian micro-managing environments typical of business and academia in the US. … » More …