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Bernal Joins Colleagues in Helping Students Take Steps to Solve World's Challenges

Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Ashley Bernal With Students

Encouraging Educator: Mechanical Engineering Professor Ashley Bernal, PhD, reviews a team's solution to a problem posed in an Introduction to Design course. (Photo by Shawn Spence))

A summer educational fact-finding tour of Kenyan villages and schools helped bring focus into Ashley Bernal's role as an educator and humanitarian. Up until that point the National Academic of Engineering's Grand Challenges of Engineering were just ideas developed by others.

Then, it got personal.

"I got to see firsthand the need for clean water, economical solar energy, and engineering better medicines. I saw how I and the students that I teach could really make a difference," says Bernal, who joined faculty colleagues Charles Joenathan, Michael Kukral, and Richard Onyancha on the Faculty Without Borders trip. "As a student, I only saw engineering as a company-based mechanism. That limited my focus. It's not always about profit; sometimes it's about helping people through engineering."

Bernal, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, helped English Professor Anneliese Watt and Physics and Optical Engineering Professor Scott Kirkpatrick start a multidisciplinary Grand Challenges course. Students spent the summer in 2013 creating a water purification device for Kenyan villages. Then, last summer, with assistance from English Professor Terence Hartnett, students developed novel ways to repurpose plastic trash products, including discarded grocery bags, to create new housing construction materials for Haitian families displaced by natural disasters. An earlier project had students creating a water purification device for Kenyan villages.

"As students learn more about the opportunities, the more aware they become of the bigger problems in the world and the role an engineer can play in solving them," Bernal says.

The multidisciplinary course is part of Rose-Hulman's Grand Challenges group, led by Mechanical Engineering Professor Sean Moseley.

In her spare time, Bernal is the campus representative to the American Society of Engineering Education, helping organized the 2014 Illinois/Indiana District Conference. She is also serving as faculty advisor for Rose-Hulman's Efficient Vehicles Team, Global Outreach Club, and Tau Beta Pi honor society. And, she's watching current students eclipse many of the track and field records that she set as a student-athlete at Rose-Hulman before earning a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in 2006.

"When I graduated (from Rose-Hulman) I told them to hold a spot for me on the mechanical engineering faculty. Everything has worked out," Bernal says. "Rose-Hulman is such a unique atmosphere, in and outside of the classroom. The 'family atmosphere' is something you cherish when away. Professors have a bigger impact on their students here because you get to know them so well."


Key Quote:

"I cherish the impact that I can have on a future engineer," Professor Bernal says.


Ashley Bernal Profile

Ashley Bernal

Faculty Profile: Ashley Bernal, PhD

Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering


Bachlor's Degree, Mechanical Engineering, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, 2006
Ph.D., Mechanical Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, 2011

Areas of Specialization: Design, Materials, and Manufacturing

Industrial Experiences: Subsystems Engineer, Boeing Corporation

Courses Taught: Introduction to Design, Materials Engineering, Engineering Design Processing and Methodology, Statics and Mechanics of Materials, Engineering Design for Third World Nations