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Governor’s School Adapts for Successful Remote Materials Science Experience

High-school students in the 2020 MSE Governor’s School react to meeting MABEline, the college’s synthetic cadaver used in biomedical engineering research and studies.

The department again presented materials and engineering in the Tennessee Governor’s School for Engineering for 2020, with a course presentation adapted for remote learning necessitated by the year’s pandemic. This year’s program hosted 26 high-school students from across Tennessee.

This annual summer program usually follows portions of the sophomore MSE curriculum with a hearty dose of materials science experimental concepts, followed by data analysis, report writing, and presentations.

“Typically, the students enjoy spending lots of time on the scanning electron microscopes, and crafting additional experiments to present at the end of the school poster session,” said Chris Wetteland, associate professor of practice, who led Governor’s School efforts for MSE. “This year we had to give the students a laboratory experience virtually.”

The experience succeeded largely due to “herculean” efforts from MSE teaching assistants Mathew Cothrine and Ian Greeley and lab supervisor and Jerry Egeland.

“It’s incredibly difficult to put together good online laboratory demonstrations,” said Wetteland. “Jerry, Mathew, and Ian made many dry runs to perform engaging activities. Over the course of the school, they improved tremendously and we got terrific feedback from the students.”

Course adaptations for 2020 included multi-themed collaboration with colleagues such as David Donovan, associate professor in nuclear engineering, and Libby Barker and Doug Aaron, both assistant professors in mechanical, aerospace, and biomedical engineering.

“Being online, we wanted to give students a fresh set of faces and to explore materials science across multiple disciplines,” said Wetteland.

Donovan adapted the curriculum from his introductory course on nuclear engineering. He joined a class to discuss research in materials used for fusion energy.

Students from a parallel Governor’s School cohort in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE) joined MSE’s students for the visit with MABEline, the synthetic cadaver used by Barker and other researchers in biomedical engineering.

“We had lot of assignments that tested the creativity of the group, and we were not disappointed,” said Wetteland. “I am always blown away on how bright and creative our Governor’s School students are, and this year was no exception. They really rose to the challenge to examine our curriculum and found creative ways to present their work. We shared a lot of laughs over the six weeks.”

The adaptive efforts ultimately offered successful insight into the engineering and STEM world for the participating students, with an added broader exposure thanks to the cross-department faculty participation.

Wetteland looks forward to a future return to an on-campus Governor’s School.

“The goal is for students to come to UT and experience campus and curriculum in person,” he said. “We have had numerous students over the years join MSE and other TCE departments. We hope that whether online or in-person the students have a great experience and consider joining UT for their undergraduate education.”

Knoxville knifemaker John Phillips gave students a virtual tour of his workshop.

Knoxville knifemaker John Phillips gave students a virtual tour of his workshop.

Forged by Phillips-Knoxville knifemaker John Phillips

One special treat for Governor’s School attendees this year was a virtual visit with John Phillips, Knoxville knifemaker, and 2019 winner of the History Channel’s “Forged in Fire” blacksmithing competition show.

Floyd Ostrowski, ISE assistant professor of practice, helped coach Phillips when the knifemaker participated in the “What’s the Big Idea” pitch competition sponsored by the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC).

“When I saw MSE was doing a sword-making lecture, I asked John if we could do a ‘virtual’ tour of his shop,” said Ostrowski. “We combined the ISE and MSE classes for the tour.”

Learn more about Phillips’s work at