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Faculty Spotlight Part Two: Sharon Ehasz

Faculty Spotlight Part Two: Sharon Ehasz

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Professor Sharon Ehasz joins the Case School of Engineering faculty with distinctive qualifications one might not expect to see. She recently spoke with us about the journey that has brought her here, her ideas surrounding a refreshed presentation of EPOM 400: Leadership and Interpersonal Skills, and the importance of connection between faculty and students. Excerpts of the conversation follow here and in a second post.

Engaging and Inspiring Students

Q: Please talk a bit about your overall philosophy of teaching. What is it, and how do you see it evolving with time and experience?

A: I believe that, especially when it comes to leadership and interpersonal skills, a lot of us have a lot more knowledge as we walk into the classroom on day one than we give ourselves credit for. I work to show the value of one's own personal experience. Often, I do something called scaffolding, which is taking smaller concepts and building on them, but I use the baseline or the main structure of that scaffold as being one person's lived experience—the student's lived experience—and then we build on that. In addition, I try to make what we do experiential. So it's not a matter of coming to class, memorizing something that you've read and regurgitating it, but it's taking something that we discuss, applying it, seeing how it fits in your own world and reflecting on it.

Q: How do you strive to engage and inspire students? What is important to you about that process?

A: For EPOM 400, I hope to engage and inspire students through relationships. They're fundamental in how we’re able to be effective and encouraging at work, and the same is true within a classroom. I want students to know their voices matter. I am not an expert. I don't want to be the expert because I want to continue learning. And each one of them also has so much to contribute and value to bring to the classroom, through our dialogue as a class, whether that’s student to student or between me as the instructor and the student. And what's important to me about relationships is that inherently, when we listen to each other, when we engage with each other, when we learn from each other, we're able to show each other and reinforce in each other our value.

Interpersonal Skills and the Dynamic World of Engineering

Q: How do you plan to connect the evolutions in engineering to a leadership and interpersonal skills course?

A: To ensure that the research that comes out of organizational behavior and business truly applies within engineering, I created a survey. I reached out to engineers I knew, who reached out to engineers they knew. Before I knew it, I had 92 different responses to my survey, asking questions about:

Based on that information, I have created a course that marries what we know through our research within business—which overlapped brilliantly with my expectations and what I heard back from the engineers. In order to remain relevant, I reached out to the engineers. I reached out to the people who are doing the jobs that my students are going to be doing, to ensure that the skill sets I give them really are the ones that are going to be most impactful for them.

Collaboration and Interdisciplinary Learning

Q: What plans do you have for collaboration with other faculty members, perhaps from other departments, to strengthen the interdisciplinary aspect of EPOM 400?

A: EPOM 400 deals with interpersonal skills and leadership—two concepts that span any discipline. Because of that, it's important that even though we're in the Case School of Engineering, I bring in aspects from other disciplines, including my background in organizational behavior and business. Organizational behavior (OB) itself is interdisciplinary in that it's comprised of multiple social sciences, most specifically to my research, the aspects of psychology and sociology. Within that, I plan on bringing in voices, experts in the business and OB field into our course, while also combining with it the voices of engineers from the survey I mentioned earlier, in which I asked them for their advice, their wisdom. And you'll see within the course where I intersperse their comments with the actual content to enhance students’ learning.

Real-World Applications of EPOM 400

Q: Given the emphasis on experience-based learning in this course, how do you envision students applying their understanding of communication, emotional intelligence, and behavioral-based communication needs in real-world work environments?

A: I am so excited about this aspect of the course. It is so easy to read a book and say, “Yeah, I've got it. Makes total sense. I could do this.” It's totally different to learn something and then actually practice it, to have it either work the way you think it's going to work or maybe not work at all. And then having to respond and learn and grow. Of all the places to get to do that, a class like this is the best, versus trial and error in the workplace and maybe not having the resources and the support to say, “Okay, that didn't work.” And so within this course and the experiential aspect of it, in every module, we're going to discuss practical tips, things that can be applied, but not just discussing them. Students will be encouraged every week to practice them, and then the following week, reflect: How did they go? And it's okay if they didn't work. That's part of the learning. That's part of the growth because then it allows you to try something new.

Q: What professional partnerships and other practical experiences do you hope to foster for your students?

A: I hope to foster connection between the students. It's very interesting to hear back at the end of the semester from the learning teams, from the individual students who gain exposure to their fellow students who are studying or working in some other aspect of engineering: how they operate differently, how they think differently. Because of that, they're able to network outside of their specific niche area of engineering. In addition, I hope to network with them personally—to create a community that allows them to have a resource, even after the class is over, that they can reach back to if they have questions because we have this common experience of learning in this class.

Q: What else would you like students and potential students to consider about EPOM 400?

A: Would you be okay if your life were exactly the same six months from now? How you behave, all of your relationships, your work? You may say yes, but expand that now to a year. Would you be okay if everything were the same? I imagine most of you would not be. EPOM 400: Leadership and Interpersonal Skills is an opportunity to grow. It's an opportunity to develop yourself so that when you look back at the end of the semester, you'll be able to reflect and see what an incredible impact this class has had on your life.

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