The Scrutinizer: Susan Lord

“Good morning, everyone!” comes a chipper voice from the front of a Loma Hall classroom. Not satisfied with the tepid response from her Electrical Engineering II students, Susan Lord gives it another shot. And then another. On the third try, the persistent professor finally gets the robust morning greeting she wanted. And pupils gear up for another session of understated enthusiasm from their teacher.

“In general, what are we talking about here?” she asks, eyeing her students keenly. With quick strokes, she draws a trapezoid on the white board with a flat region in the middle and lines that fall off it from both sides. “Where would you say we would use this particular amplifier?”

The questions are quick and constant, and the answers zing back rapidly. To the uninitiated, this lesson could seem like it’s taking place in an utterly foreign language. But these students are juniors, and they’ve seen her in action before. “I think this is what I was meant to do,” says Lord, who also serves as chair of the department. “I love what I do. I really do love trying to help people understand.”

Her body of research and writing on engineering education — combined with multiple research and teaching awards — offers ample evidence of her talent as a teacher. A few examples: She serves on the California Science Project’s advisory board. She presents and organizes workshops that introduce schoolaged girls to science, technology and engineering. Among her many accolades, Lord counts the prestigious Nicola Tesla Chain Award for outstanding achievements in the field of engineering pedagogy, bestowed by the International Society for Engineering Education.

Her approach involves peppering her students with pointed questions, prodding and pushing them to come up with the right responses. And if they don’t, she goes over things again, and again, until everyone gets it.

“Engineering is not about memorizing stuff,” Lord notes. “It’s really about finding a way to understand the problem-solving so you can do it when the problem changes a bit.” Just like it would if these students were building a real amplifier in the workforce.

Coupled with her passion for teaching, Lord — a mother of two girls — is focused on bringing more women, veterans and underrepresented and underserved populations into the engineering fold. It’s an ongoing challenge that she says she hasn’t mastered yet. But if you look around her classroom, there’s real variety in the group. She credits USD for fostering diversity by requiring its engineering students to study liberal arts.

“If you understand people and society a little better, you should be better at solving problems,” she says. “The reason it’s so critical to get more women and visible minorities is that we need lots of different people at the table. The more people you have, the more solutions you’ll develop.” — Karen Gross