A love of engineering
For Arezoo Emadi, engineering is in her blood.
She was born in Iran in a family of engineers. “When I was a kid, I loved math. I used to spend any pocket money that I had to buy math and puzzle books. I loved solving puzzles,” said Emadi during an interview on June 13, 2023 in her office.
Emadi said education was really big in her family, but more than that, her family was very encouraging. “If I ever doubted myself, I was told ‘of course you can do it, just trust in yourself’. I was fortunate enough that I was always encouraged by my parents, siblings, and extended family.”
After completing her undergraduate degree in electrical engineering, she attended Chalmers University of Technology and completed a graduate degree in Microtechnology and Nanoscience. At this time she met her PhD supervisor from the University of Manitoba who happened to be visiting for a conference. After meeting him, she decided to come to Canada and do her PhD in Winnipeg in the field of Micro-electromechanical Systems (MEMS).
She recalled her future supervisor’s description of life in Winnipeg. “I clearly remember him telling me that during winter snow makes this amazing sound when you walk on it: crunch, crunch, crunch! He made it sound fascinating!”
She arrived in Winnipeg around Christmas time in the coldest time of the year to a city buried in so much snow that she didn’t think it would ever disappear. “I thought I just came to the North Pole.” But she ended up loving Winnipeg, specially the cold! “I became a Winnipeger. I walked a lot during Winter, and I loved it, even when it was -50.”
After completing her PhD, she did her Post Doc under the guidance of Douglas Buchanan. She considers Buchanan one of the best mentors she has had and still consults with him from time to time. One of the things Emadi learned from him was to give students freedom and to not micromanage them, while at the same time make sure they are doing well and are on the right track. “I want them to know that I deeply care about their future and profession. And I want them to feel that they own their research, and that they can be a leader. I give them the flexibility and freedom to find their path, which I give credit to Doug,” she said. “He taught me the importance of giving credit and recognition, and that your student’s success is your success.”
After completing her Post Doc, she decided to make money, literally. She ended up getting a research engineer position at the Royal Canadian Mint in Winnipeg in their R&D department. Emadi said she believes that having industrial experience is crucial for those who are in the academy teaching the next generation, specifically for engineers. “I wanted to have that industrial experience; I think it’s extremely valuable.”
She had the opportunity to travel to several other country’s Mints and industries working on “really cool projects,” and working with an amazing group of people and an incredible manager and an amazing director. She believes her experience at the Mint created a foundation of how she manages her team and run the industrial research projects coming to her lab now. But after a few years she yearned for the fulfillment and satisfaction that the academy provides of doing her own research and teaching students. She was hired in 2017 at the University of Windsor for a position that very much aligned with her background and research experience, and made the move to Windsor.
Teaching a Large Course and Designing Labs
Part of Emadi’s teaching philosophy is to ensure that her students are encouraged, motivated, and respected in finding answers for the introduced questions and problems, and to train them in such a way that they can implement their knowledge to real-world applications. “I like the feeling I get of getting students excited about how they can apply their learning to real world problems,” she said.
The first course Emadi was assigned to teach was a 400-person new second-year course. The previously taught similar courses did not have a lab component, so she decided to design it, and was fortunate enough to have the support of her dean who provided the necessary funding. It took her almost a year to design the lab component, and that work earned her a Wighton Fellowship, a national award which recognizes and honours a person who has contributed in an innovative, distinctive, and exceptional way, to the instruction of undergraduate laboratory courses in a Faculty or School of Engineering at a Canadian University.
Emadi drew upon her time at the University of Manitoba where she completed a 2-year Teaching and Learning Certificate offered by the university’s Centre for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning, which she did in parallel with her PhD. She also consulted with UWindsor’s CTL.
The lab was initially split into 8 sections and then 4 sections in the next year after a major laboratory renovation was completed with the support of dean of Faculty of Engineering at that time, Dr. Saif. The labs are taught by Emadi and a team of GAs. “It’s very important for me to be in the lab with my students, I very much enjoy interacting with the students and engaging in activities that stimulates their creative thinking,” she said. “I want them to know and get that feeling that I care about their education and their learning.”
Engineering concepts can be difficult to understand, so Emadi uses a lot of examples to help explain or make sense of what is being taught. She then asks students questions to see if they understood, but she also keeps an eye out for looks of confusion. “Asking questions gives me a little bit of a feedback to see that if my students are understanding the material and if I’m going too fast, too slow. I adjust my teaching and lessons based on the feedback I get from them.”
Since her classroom is very large (CEI 1100), she tends to walk around rather than stay at the front of the room. If she gives students time to work on a question or example, she will travel through the room to make sure students are understanding the material and staying focused. “If something is not clear for them, I encourage them to let me know. It is very important for me that my students feel completely okay to say they didn’t understand.”
She also gets formal feedback in the form of a questionnaire, something she started using during the pandemic when teaching to a screen. “I lost that face-to-face connection with them, that instant feedback. I was teaching to a screen, and I wasn’t sure what was happening on the other side.” She continues to use the questionnaire post pandemic.
Talking to colleagues is another way for her to get feedback, either to get advice about teaching and learning in the classroom, or to make sure the topics she is teaching aligns with what will be taught in later year courses.
A couple of times during the semester she will check student grades and if she notices a fluctuation or decline, she will email those students and ask them to personally meet with her in her office to discuss any issues they may be having. She also meets with students who tell her they are having difficulty understanding the material and are thinking of dropping out. “I try to hear them out and get them the help that they need. And I also tell them they can do it and I am here to support them. I try to be encouraging like my family and my mentor were with me.”
She remembers one of her former students approaching her after graduating. “He told me he thought he was going to fail my class and he thanked me for the conversation we had,” she said. “It’s gratifying knowing I had an influence on a student, to be encouraged to be able to continue and not lose hope.”
Emadi is also aware of how the field of engineering is largely male-dominated and she is doing her best to change attitudes for the next generation. “When I teach, I present myself with confidence and some of my female students have commented that we want to gain that confidence, to be able to fit in. Many have said they see me as a role model.”
She continues, “I have zero tolerance for unfairness. If I see that some of my female students are not treated fairly, I take it upon myself to call it out. I also encourage my own students to be fair, to be mindful of EDI (equity, diversity and inclusion), and that we’re not at a place where we can say everybody is treated fairly and equally in engineering. So, I want them to be mindful of that.”
These days finds Emadi in her “happy place” designing a new first-year course that will be introduced in 2024. “It’s going to be purely experiential learning. I’m finding myself very happy when I’m designing the course activities and laboratories. I’m enjoying designing this course because I’m excited about things that our students are going to learn.”
Peter provides expertise in the area of multimedia in support of CTL programs, website design, and special events. He has been doing graphic and web design for about 20 years. He is a graduate of Print Journalism and Digital Media from Conestoga College, and Communication, Media and Film from the University of Windsor.