Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The reason associate professor of mechanical engineering May-Win Thein gives back to UNH is simple: She wants her students to be studying, learning, experimenting and researching. She doesn't want them worried about where the money is going to come from to support all that.

As a faculty advisor to student orgs such as the LunaCats space robotics team, she sees when students are worried about how they'll pay for travel to competitions or conferences, the Kennedy Space Center, or Newfoundland, or even farther overseas.

"They spend a whole year or more working on these projects, and it's a great learning experience. What I want them to concentrate on is the design, building, testing, manufacturing — everything they need to compete. I don't want them to spend time fundraising trying to get money.

"I see them working really hard, and this is why I donate. I see first-hand where the money will go."

Thein knows something of hard work. She graduated from Lehigh University with her bachelor's and master's degrees in mechanical engineering and earned a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at Oklahoma State University.

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She chose to come to UNH in 1999 fresh from Oklahoma State, because, she says, she was looking for a university that offered a fair split between research and teaching.

"It was between UNH and Penn State, and I chose UNH because I knew I didn't want students to be just a number. I wanted to teach," she says. And she didn't mind being the first female faculty member in the department; she's been breaking down gender barriers in engineering since her days at Lehigh, and says in her UNH students she can see male-dominance in STEM courses starting to ease.

Thein specializes in system dynamics and control, which has broad applications not just in mechanical engineering, but also chemical engineering, aerospace engineering and more.

Since coming to UNH, she and her students have been involved in cooperative projects with NASA (including the Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission, which recently launched) and the U.S. Navy — in fact, Thein is spending much of her summer in the Pacific Northwest working with the Navy on autonomous surface vehicles (ASVs). And yes, she gets the "cool factor" about her job, getting to conduct elite, cutting edge research that would make any science geek swoon.

Being with her students is what she finds the most fun, especially on days when students are curious.

"The best days of teaching are when students are so interested that they keep asking questions," she says, and tries to keep that momentum going by leaving her syllabus loose enough to incorporate new breakthroughs happening around the world every day. "We're always talking about what NASA's doing, what the Russians are doing, or the latest news from the European Space Agency. I try to have examples of things that will give students who might be having difficulty an 'aha!' moment of their own," she says.

Ultimately, she says, she establishes good working relationships with her students because she wants them to find great success — so supporting them through donations to UNH is a way to help make that a reality.

"It's like giving to my own kids. I've adopted these 500 kids like they were my own," she says.

 

  • Written By:

    Staff writer | Communications and Public Affairs