Spotlights

Spotlight: Ken Gentry

kengentryWhen advising freshmen do you pull from any experiences from when you were in college, and if so, would you mind sharing one or two of those experiences? (Preferably more specific than something like “I procrastinated in college so I tell my advisees not to.”)

In college I changed majors a few times and not always for the best reasons. I started as an engineer, but didn’t like my 8am engineering lab fall semester so switched to biology. Then as a sophomore I took organic chemistry and biochemistry and decided I’d rather go back to engineering then have to take the second semester of organic chemistry. Looking at my credits and how they fit with the engineering majors, I decided the best choice was biomedical engineering to still graduate in four years. Luckily I liked BME, but this wasn’t guaranteed! My advice to students thinking about switching majors is to not just “run away” but to have something to run towards, which means do the research and be proactive in decision-making.

One consequence of my poor planning was that I did need to take a few courses in summer. I was able to find a couple of jobs on campus (in a research lab and at a bagel shop) to help pay the rent, but do regret that I didn’t have a free summer for an engineering internship. I think students should try to get experience in a lot of different engineering contexts because they are so different.

What’s your favorite DTC project you’ve ever guided and why?

Hmmm….there are many things that go into making a good DTC project – the client, the students, the problem, even the co-teacher. For example, my cousin helps to run a community farm on the South Side of Chicago and she had students design a rainwater collection and irrigation system. It was fun to see my cousin and learn more about her work. One quarter we had a team work on a design to fix the outlet covers on the floor of Ford which is a great project, but unfortunately their solution wasn’t quite good enough to be implemented. One really thought-provoking project was to design something to help a Northwestern student in a wheelchair press elevator (and other) buttons on campus. Her experiences were so different from the typical students, and walking around campus I still notice things like poorly placed buttons, out-of-the-way elevators, and even snow in walkways.

I will refrain from naming my favorite students and co-teachers.  😉

What activities do you like to do in your free time?

Between having three kids and a house that always needs something done (the combination of my cheapness and engineer’s mindset of “I can fix anything” means I rarely pay other people to fix things – even when I really should), means that free time is often in short supply. My son and I are playing through the new Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild game which is entertaining. I play pub trivia every week with some friends (we’re pretty good!). I also like to read, mostly science fiction (currently The Found and the Lost, a collection of short stories by Ursula K. LeGuin) and non-fiction (currently The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore). I really want to practice pencil drawing more, but never seem to find the time. Sometimes my daughter and I will make little comics together. My wife and I try to make it to shows, both music (I saw Mogwai in February, mainly because I got a free ticket) and comedy (we saw Kathleen Madigan last weekend).

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, how does it feel to be compared to Matt Damon?

I think the comparisons to Matt Damon are funny. I hope to avoid this fate: image001.jpg

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