Engineering Students for Success
Christopher Stubbs, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering Technology, Metropolitan Campus
By Mary Ann Bautista
Behind every student’s successful academic journey is a committed mentor — a role that Christopher Stubbs, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and mechanical engineering technology at the Metropolitan Campus, is happy to fill. After leaving the mechanical engineering industry for academia, he has become his students’ biggest cheerleader.
“After working in the mechanical engineering industry, I realized that the best part of that job was teaching the newly hired engineers,” he says. “Watching people work their way up to master a skill through hard work and dedication never gets old.”
At FDU, Stubbs has found an institution that shares his dedication to constantly enhancing the student learning experience.
“The University is really special in its ability to create an environment that allows students to work side-by-side with professors on projects,” he says. Small class sizes have also given him the opportunity to “really get to know my students and share in all of their educational and professional successes.”
Stubbs and his students are currently studying thigmomorphogenesis at FDU’s Computational Plant Biomechanics Laboratory. “To get bigger and stronger muscles we go to the gym and work out,” he explains, “and the same is true of plants. If you ‘exercise’ a plant [by mechanical sensation], it actually grows much differently, and is typically shorter and stiffer.” They use the equations and simulations that have been developed for cars and bridges to design stronger and more storm-resilient crops like corn and wheat. “Mechanical engineering is a really broad field that can lead you down so many different paths,” he adds.
No matter what field his students may eventually pursue, Stubbs is developing their knowledge base. He engages them through a curriculum that not only challenges them but, more importantly, equips them with the skills for future achievements. He also encourages his students to take an active role in their learning. “They provide me with feedback on how they would like their education to be tailored,” he says, “so I’m always evolving my teaching methods and style to best help them learn new concepts and techniques.”
In his mechanical design classes, Stubbs emphasizes “prototype early and prototype often.” “No engineer, no matter how skilled, comes up with a perfect design on their first try,” he explains. “It’s important to get a barely working version, or ‘minimally viable product,’ done as soon as possible to test the proof-of-concept. The sooner you get something in your hands to start analyzing and testing, the better.”
He also focuses on so-called threshold concepts “that, once understood, change the way a person thinks about a topic.” It’s “the ability to look at a problem from a different perspective in such a way that the solution presents itself clearly to you — a skill that takes all of undergraduate education to develop,” Stubbs adds.
Based on feedback from recent alumni, this academic groundwork is serving his students well beyond the classroom. “Their accomplishments across the industry are excellent validation that we as an FDU community are setting our students up for success and great motivation to keep doing what we’re doing,” he says.
Stubbs is determined to continue to be part of his students’ personal and professional journey after they leave his classroom. “Their success is my success,” he says. “Seeing a student who has worked hard for years [become a full-fledged engineer] is an incredible transformation to witness, and I’m honored to be part of it.”
The trebuchet (high-tech versions of medieval catapults) competition started by FDU’s chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), of which he is faculty adviser, and the Engineering Research and Design Expo
“Whether they are designing a new device, 3D printing prototypes or using the advanced manufacturing lab to modify existing designs, my students always look toward ‘what’s next,’ and the excitement is contagious.”
Stubbs and his wife, Mirrie Choi, an art instructor in New York City, N.Y., live on and run a small farm in Morris County, N.J., where they raise chickens and sheep. They also grow produce including tomatoes, eggplants, lettuce and peppers.