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Seminar offers outlet for teacher creativity

When Vicky Diadiuk switched jobs from physicist to registrar, she was afraid that her days in the laboratory might be over. But that was before she began teaching freshman advisor seminars at the Edgerton Center.

Dr. Diadiuk, who received the SB in physics in 1972 and the ScD, also in physics, in 1978, worked as a research staff member in the electro-optics group at Lincoln Labs until 1991, when defense cutbacks made continued funding for her research look uncertain. She consequently took on a new job on campus as associate registrar for curriculum services, "but I was still eager to stay in touch with the technical stuff," she said.

Her opportunity came when she saw an article about the Edgerton Center in the faculty newsletter, describing the availability of space for hands-on seminars. She had already co-led a freshman advisor seminar on recycling in the fall of 1992, so she knew how rewarding they could be. The experimental component was an added bonus. So after obtaining approval from Professor Kim Vandiver, the director of the Edgerton Center, she taught her first hands-on seminar, Devices for Optical Communications. "This was my chance to teach students how to actually build something," she said. "They provided an incredibly welcoming environment."

In her 1993 seminar, students built a demonstration optical voice link as a display for the Corridor Lab project. It shows how sound is converted to an optical signal and transmitted by an optical fiber. Passers-by can push a button and speak into a microphone; the signal travels through a light-emitting diode (LED) whose output goes through a plastic fiber-optic cable to a photodetector, which drives a speaker. The link is on display on the third floor of Building 4. This IAP, some of the students returned on their own initiative to upgrade the electronics in the display. Dr. Diadiuk has repeated the seminar for other groups of students who have built other devices.

For the students, such seminars provide a means of learning electronics, assembly and machining skills to complement textbook engineering know-how. "They now appreciate that building something is a lot more than just putting it down on paper. They know, for example, what technicians do, and the skills of the machinists who make these fancy parts," Dr. Diadiuk said. Because of limited budgets, they also learn how to locate and adapt used parts they need to make things, she added.

Teaching a seminar can also be a rewarding experience for the advisor/instructors. "It's like a mini UROP; it becomes very dynamic very quickly," Dr. Diadiuk said. "I got to know them [the students] really well." Advisors-quite a few of whom are administrators like herself rather than faculty or research staff-are assisted by upperclassmen who are associate advisors, she added. "One gets lots of guidance. It's really fun and it's not that hard."

Professor Vandiver hopes that other MIT staff with technical skills will volunteer to teach an advisor seminar at the Center. "These kinds of people are really valuable," he said. Anyone with hands-on knowledge in areas such as electronics, machining, photography or physics and who is interested in teaching a seminar is invited to call him at x3-4366 or email .

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on January 25, 1995.

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