CUTF – MATLAB for Statics 1

Hello! My name is Natan Herzog and I’m a senior BPhil Candidate majoring in Engineering Science with a minor in Physics and certificates in both Sustainability and Innovation, Product Design, and Entrepreneurship. This semester, I am working with Dr. Matthew Barry in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science (MEMS) to develop a supplemental MATLAB curriculum for the introductory course, Statics and Mechanics of Materials 1 (ENGR 0135). Most engineering students take this class in the Fall of their second year, which makes it one of the most formative courses in their academic careers.

Having run this course for several years now, Dr. Barry has developed a strong curriculum that challenges students to start thinking like an engineer. The entire semester builds towards the final bridge design project, for which students design, model, and test a bridge. As part of this process, we expect students to demonstrate an iterative design process. That could be as simple as making slight modifications after a preliminary test, or as complex as invoking a computational optimization algorithm. In the past, we have attempted to introduce MATLAB throughout the semester, encouraging students to use it for their final project. However, having been a UTA multiple times, I’ve identified that students are often not comfortable enough to use MATLAB at this level, and we have historically not had enough time to build a robust MATLAB curriculum, as it is not technically part of the core course content.

My goal for this semester is to build such a curriculum to run in parallel with the usual course content that redefines MATLAB as a tool for solving their problems, rather than as a coding language. In my experience, I have always appreciated MATLAB or other programming languages when I have a defined problem to apply them towards. In contrast, lesson plans that focus on simple programming fundamentals without providing a problem-solving framework are less interesting. Dr. Barry and I believe that having students work through their usual statics problems in MATLAB will build the skills necessary to develop robust applications for their final projects.

If successful, this project will empower students to use MATLAB in their later courses, whether required or not, and will hopefully inspire some to explore the world of programming even more deeply through other coursework, internships/co-ops, research, or on their own time. The statics bridge project was one of the reasons I fell in love with computational modeling and my research with Dr. Barry has allowed me to pursue that passion even more deeply. Perhaps my work will serve as a similar spark for some of our students this fall.

After this semester, I will be out of classes for a whole year to do co-op/internship rotations (I have not yet solidified where) before coming back to complete my last semester in the Spring of 2025, at which point I will finally graduate. After that, my plan is to go to graduate school to get my PhD in something relating to computational science (again, I have not yet figured out the exact field). I obviously love doing research, hence the BPhil, but I also love teaching other people and that’s the motivation for this fellowship.

As someone who has been fortunate enough to have the time, energy, and support necessary to do well thus far, I have the ability and even the responsibility to do what I can to develop those same conditions of success for others. In this case, I still dedicate a significant amount of my time towards the regular responsibilities of a UTA, but I am also working on what will hopefully turn out to be an inspiring and hugely beneficial resource for this cohort and all those to come after.

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