John Mativo, Ed.D., Ph.D.

Professor of College of Engineering and College of Education

Dr. Mativo is an Associate Professor at the University of Georgia. His research interest lies in two fields. The first is research focusing on best and effective ways to teaching and learning in STEM K-16. He is currently researching on best practices in learning Dynamics, a sophomore engineering core course. The second research focus of Dr. Mativo is energy harvesting in particular the design and use of flexible thermoelectric generators. His investigation is both for the high-tech and low tech applications. In addition to teaching courses such as energy systems, mechanics, mechatronics, and production, he investigates best ways to expand cutting edge technologies to the workforce.

“Educating engineers gives hope to the planet.”

A short conversation about engineering education with Dr. Mativo:

What excites you about educating engineers for the 21st Century?

Educating engineers gives hope to the planet because they learn systematic ways to approach problems by thoroughly understanding the situation at hand, carefully evaluating it, and exploring ways to address it satisfactorily. Ideally, the goal is for them to make the planet a better place to live. It is a privilege to be part of a team that helps future technical leaders acquire and hone their knowledge and skills; and apply them effectively. A new century, the 21st century, brings its own complications with advancements in technology. It is exciting to be a part of the community that seeks solutions to help shape the world for a better tomorrow.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges facing society today and what is the role of engineering educators to address them?

The National Academy of Engineering identified fourteen grand challenges.  The challenges are real, huge, technical problems that need solutions and I believe there is capacity to address them.

I see basic human needs such as water, food, and energy as long-range challenges. The ability for us to provide palatable water to growing populations, livestock, and water for food production are a concern. An increasing population with finite resources require innovative ideas and creative methods to provide a good living. Will the Earth be able to provide enough affordable food for everyone?  Will there be adequate energy for homes and industry? Fossil fuels still provide a bulk of energy for needs today. Is the practice sustainable? Engineers evaluate problems and seek solutions to them. I am excited about the energy side of the equation, in particular energy harvesting.

These challenges you are speaking about will likely require a diversity of expertise, how do engineers find solutions to such challenges?

Lasting solutions tend to involve interdisciplinary approaches. Engineers work with other professionals to study impacts of proposed solutions. When a team from three or four disciplines working together examines a challenge, they yield outcomes that have considered different facets of the problem. As a team, they can expedite their robust solution. For example, if challenged to design a robot, a mechanical engineer can tackle the actuation of the physical components while the computer engineers address software and systems interactions, and electrical engineers design for power needs. Cooperative teamwork is essential in today’s global economies.

What do you find most interesting about the current generation of incoming students, and what do you, as a teacher, do to connect with them?

There are a number of things I find interesting about today’s students. I think the incoming students today are not afraid to learn. That’s a good thing. They are very open and they like to learn how things work and why they work. I also know they are experienced in using their electronic gadgets to help them solve problems, but these same devices distract some. My only concern is that many may be over-dependent on electronic gadgets. It is important to understand the fundamentals, so that when you use an electronic gadget to perform a calculation, you can determine whether the output is accurate or not.

The current generation of students also represent a larger, more diverse student body. Their interests are also diverse. On projects, students prefer to work together as opposed to just wanting to do their own individual one. Teamwork seems to be a positive aspect that is emerging. My view is that many students have broken through the many cultural barriers experienced in the past. A positive development is seeing students not minding who they team up with to solve problems. I look forward to the new engineering generation that is exposed to such excellent education and opportunities to develop interpersonal skills to engage fully in problem solving activities. I know they will happily do it and do it well!

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