New faculty Molly Goldstein: New Product Design Lab Director, specialist in engineering design & education

Zack Fishman

Molly Goldstein joins ISE faculty this fall, becoming director of the Product Design Lab and teaching Engineering Graphics and Design (SE 101) to first-year students. But as an Illinois alumna, it will be far from her first time in the Transportation Building.

In 2004, Goldstein received her bachelor’s in General Engineering (now renamed Systems Engineering and Design), having been inspired by the multifaceted nature of the ISE students she met on campus during a high school summer camp. She then stayed within the department to get her master’s in Systems and Entrepreneurial Engineering in 2006.

“I got to see that design was the most interesting part [of the undergraduate ISE curriculum], and I got to use many ways to look at problems,” Goldstein says. She initially considered pursuing medical school with a bioengineering concentration but found that “the engineering part was much more fascinating.”

As a student, she was also a teaching assistant for several classes including the same graphics class she will soon oversee as teaching faculty — a coincidence she describes as “serendipitous.”

Upon graduating, Goldstein worked for an environmental engineering firm as an air quality engineer. For her work, she considered costs and tradeoffs in a variety of environmental contexts. Goldstein praised her design education for effectively preparing her for the real-world applications of industry.

“Being able to take a systems approach to understanding a problem makes you uniquely qualified to solve some of the biggest societal and technical problems,” she says.

After several years in industry, Goldstein then enrolled in the Engineering Education Ph.D. program at Purdue, from which she graduated this May. For her dissertation she studied how different students approached the design process, particularly their decision-making on tradeoffs.

“I looked at how students perform and explain their design trade-offs, and my results highlight variation seen in four types of students,” she says. “Taking the time to understand how students dually analyze and experience their design decisions will give me an opportunity as an educator to say, ‘How can I help this individual student? How can I understand this group of students? How can I push them to make them even better designers?’”

Now back at Illinois, Goldstein expresses a strong interest in both continuing and applying her research in student design decision-making in order to help her future students become better engineers.

Says Goldstein, “I think the program has a wonderful history of engineering design and graphics, so I hope to continue that legacy and also push and focus on the design behaviors that will make students more successful as they design, as well as throughout all their classes. I feel so happy that I can have this impact as they first enter the door.”

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