Guiding Change: Relationships Foster Movements

Post contributed by Dr. Bryan Boulanger


When I was little my father used to tell me, “If you want to know what you look like, look in the mirror. If you want to know who you are, look at your friends.” As I’ve grown older and my wife and I have had our own children, I’ve added “If you want to know who you need to be, look to those who rely upon you” to this saying.   As we consider changes to our educational model, I believe our community can apply these philosophies to figure out when and how to start a movement for change.

When I look in our mirror, I see a department and a college that lives up to our mission of engaging students through personal relationships and high-impact educational experiences to maximize their success. Our curriculum has probably not changed enough to be considered revolutionary by Big Beacon’s Manifesto. However, we remain true to ourselves; all the while quietly and effectively handling the challenges of the past and present. When I look to our friends, I see other programs and partners that are like us in their scope and passion for engineering education. Our friends bring me great joy and provide positive reinforcement in realizing who we believe ourselves to be. And finally, when I look at those who rely upon us, I see our students, staff, and faculty (past and present). I am encouraged by our collective efforts to work together on curriculum and environment within our College. Mostly, though I am encouraged by the relationships that we foster.

While I may be concerned about the sustainability of our existing model to meet current or future demands as an organization, I am not concerned about our ability to provide the type of education our students need to be successful today or tomorrow. Because what I’ve come to observe and realize is that regardless of the base model of education or the method of delivery, what distinguishes successful programs more than anything else are the healthy and positive relationships that successful programs foster. While the Big Beacon Manifesto speaks all around the importance of relationships within engineering education, the manifesto never uses the word “relationships” itself. By not stating the obvious we are missing out on the point that we, as humans, live in relation and in community with other people (personally and professionally). If you look into what actually make alternative programs and existing programs successful, you will find stories of individuals and the relationships they nurture. These stories and their relationships really matter. These relationships tell us who we are and who we need to be.

So, as we continue to transform engineering education (both in our College and across Academia), we all must be sure to focus on ensuring that our newly developed programs and education environments continue to foster healthy and positive relationships. Because only through relationships can we foster movements.


Dr. Bryan Boulanger is the Chair and Associate Professor of Civil Engineering at Ohio Northern University