Lueny Morell on “What you sow, you reap” (supplement)

This is a supplemental section accompanying Lueny Morell’s profile.

What you sow, you reap.

By the second semester of academic year 1988–89, I confirmed that the passing rate of my students was 90% vis-à-vis the usual passing rate of 40% at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez (UPRM). Students would clamor to be in my sections during the registration process (and due to restrictions to class size, some registered with other faculty but would then come and sit in my class). Some even asked me to offer the course during the summer to repeat it and “learn” after a failing experience with other professors. But in spite of my satisfaction and the happiness of my students, all was not rosy pink! One of my colleagues, who in the past had also taught the course, bluntly told me, “Either you’re telling the students what problems are coming on the exam, or you’re telling them the answers during the exam.” My response was simple enough: “Well then, I won’t come to the meetings where we write and prepare the exams, and I won’t be at the exams when they are administered.” My students would still always do better.

On another occasion, a senior professor who was on the tenure and promotion committee called me to his office and sounded out, “Lueny, you have a fan club among the students, and this is unacceptable! I don’t know what you are doing in the classroom, but the Mass & Energy Balances course has had a historic failure rate of two in three students, and this happens here and elsewhere and will continue to happen. You’d better stop!”  Admittedly with some fear, yet with more encouragement to prove him wrong, I remember leaving his office pleased that he’d heard what was going on and that a revolution was being cooked!

In 1993, I decided to document the outcomes and invited the two colleagues teaching the course that semester to do a bit of research on the effect of teaching/learning styles. One of them was the head of the department, a very experienced professor. The other was a new professor who wanted to make a difference. The latter had asked if I would explain more about my teaching methods and requested that I mentor him. (He is still a professor of chemical engineering at UPRM and a very successful one, I am proud to say.) I was able to document and correlate the “little things” I implemented in the class with course outcomes. A paper sharing these experiences was presented at the ASEE conference in 1996 (Morell & Velazquez, “Enhancing student success in an introductory chemical engineering course”).

Confidence in these documented outcomes gave me the strength and motivation to continue implementing innovations in other courses and participating in curriculum innovation projects funded by NSF and NASA. Eventually, peer faculty stopped troubling me, and I was given tenure and promoted to full professor.

There were about 800 chemical engineering students in the College of Engineering at UPRM when I was teaching, with about 100 graduating each year. The commencement parade would pass in front of the faculty during the ceremony, and I just could not help crying, happy that I had done my best, that “my kids” had learned and enjoyed it along the way…and that now they were taking a little bit of me with them.  My self-taught baby steps in engineering education and innovation had proven successful, and I was on the road of a very fulfilling career in education.