Gretchen Macht has had an appreciation for how much sustainability impacts the world around us for a long time. So, after learning that the URI College of Engineering would be increasing the theme of sustainability in its curriculum, it was an easy sell for Macht to join the Mechanical, Industrial & Systems Engineering faculty in August of 2015.
“When the Dean painted this picture of adding more courses related to sustainability and weaving the topic throughout the College, I couldn’t say no,” recalled Macht. “As system engineers, we see systems everywhere. It’s just a matter of looking at the environment as a system.”
Macht has found today’s generation of students to be much more knowledgeable and interested in sustainability than previous generations.
“These students are on at least their third wave of information when it comes to the subject,” said Macht. “For the most part, they love talking about it because they’ve been around it.”
As a means of engaging students, Macht prefers to initiate conversations rather than lecture to her class.
“I try to introduce thought-provoking topics or questions that lead to discussion,” explained Macht. “I’m not trying to change minds or push an agenda. I’m encouraging a respectful exchange of ideas and self-exploration.”
The professor revealed that if it’s an early-morning class, she’s been known to have her students do a few jumping jacks to get the blood flowing a little.
An example of a topic that Macht presented for discussion was the pros and cons of using plastic, paper or reusable bags at the supermarket.
Recently, Macht gave the keynote address at the Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW) North East Regional Conference, which was hosted by the ESW URI student chapter. The title of her presentation was “Beyond 2016: Sustainability & Hope.”
“The overarching theme of my speech was that sustainability is a huge system and that no single person can change the direction of any system. So don’t lose hope and continue the path forward,” said Macht.
As a researcher, Macht works closely with graduate students and undergraduate students in the Sustainable Innovative Solutions (SIS) lab.
“We’re currently working on several projects under two major themes,” said the professor. “We’re studying electric vehicle behavior and the topics related to e-vehicles. We’re also researching how teams should be formed and communicate when working on sustainability projects and non-sustainability projects.”
Whether it’s in her classroom or lab, Macht maintains high expectations for her students.
“I would rather set the bar high to give students something to shoot for, than set the bar too low,” stated Macht.