When in-person classes became one of the many aspects of normal life that fell victim to the COVID-19 pandemic, most people grumbled and resigned themselves to a period of languishing in a mire of pajama pants and low productivity.
Juliana Mishur, meanwhile, saw an promising opportunity and followed a hunch that has led her to recognition by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).
Mishur, who graduated from UF after the Fall 2022 semester with a BS in mechanical engineering, will now see her work published by ASME, and has also earned the opportunity to give a presentation on her research at the society’s International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition next month in New Orleans.
Her paper focused on the effects of online learning and online group work on the quality of the students’ experiences in mechanical engineering classes.
“There is a current preconception in the industry and in academia that online group work produces a diminished quality in results compared with in-person,” Mishur said. “When COVID happened, of course, we all went online, and that created a wonderful opportunity to investigate if online education, and specifically online group work, is as bad as people say it is.”
While working as a TA in the Design and Manufacturing Lab, she, along with MAE professors Sean Niemi and Matthew Traum, studied students in mechanical design classes that are based heavily on group work. Using data collected from submitted work and student peer-review surveys, they evaluated the online classes and eventually compared them to in-person ones once the COVID lockdown ended. To their surprise, the data actually didn’t seem to show a difference between the quality of group work done online versus that which was done in person.
“When we got the confirmation, it was the feeling of, ‘Wow, that’s a little bit of an accomplishment,’” she said. “It’s very exciting because I am hoping that this will open a lot of communication with different universities, different people, and then we can actually extend and expand this research to include a larger pool of groups, which will, of course, only improve it.”
Along with her excitement about the future, Mishur also maintains plenty of gratitude for Drs. Niemi and Traum for their support and contributions to the project.
“We really have a good relationship,” she said. “I’m extremely lucky to have been working with them and to have them support my constant questions, constant tries to get something done with this research or trying different research. I don’t know how much more appreciative I can be of them.”
Mishur said she hopes to continue this research by extending it first to other classes, then to different areas of engineering, then to other institutions, and finally, maybe, to other disciplines aside from engineering. She envisions a future where, due to further investment in online learning resources, education becomes more accessible to a wider range of people.
“It’s really interesting to me how we can, as people who are teaching them, can help students succeed by providing them a different opportunity,” she said. “Discovering and researching this topic opens up a lot of opportunities for diversity and accessibility and availability of all this, and openness of education. And in my mind, that’s a huge step which I am really interested in, to make sure that the education that we provide is available for anyone who would actually like to participate in it. Not only available, but also is ranked at the same level as their in-person education is.”
Since January, Mishur has worked as a fuel systems integration engineer at Cummins Inc., a multinational corporation based in Indiana. About eight months in, she enjoys her job mainly designing fuel system components for truck engines, and happily looks forward to an “actual” winter, more aligned with that of her native Belarus, after four years in Florida.