Dr. Blake Hylton, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Ohio Northern University, is a 2020 KEEN Rising Star. The following is taken from his interview with Edmond J. Dougherty.
In high school, Blake Hylton became interested in technology as a result of a program established by Black and Veatch, a large engineering firm in Kansas City. An exciting, projects-based Research Science class in senior year of high school sealed the deal and convinced him that his future was in STEM. Recognizing the impact the high school STEM experiences had on him, Hylton has been giving back. Through an NSF grant, Hylton helps high schools “add engineering design content layered into core science classes. With the next generation science education standards, teachers need tools and training. We’re providing that, and at the same time, we are trying to get the kids excited about engineering and the mindset of the engineer.”
Hylton stands out in the crowd. He has a full head of auburn hair with sideburns that border on mutton chops. He also wears bow ties.
He explains: “The bow ties started when I was teaching in grad school. I realized that I look about 5 to 10 years younger than I actually am. Even after I started teaching, many people thought I was an undergraduate. Wearing the bow ties was a way to differentiate myself from the students. I have a bunch of different ones. It started out as a bow-tie-Friday thing. Then it just extended into bow ties all the time.
"I have probably 60 bow ties now. There's the circuit board bow tie. And then have the pi symbol and pie slices. My Purdue Boilermaker one. The favorite of all is the Lego tie. I do have a 3D printed tie. That was a gift from a student."
“I'm naturally fairly introverted," Hylton continues, "but with teaching, I always employ a high degree of showmanship. It's a little bit of an act. I put on my stage face, go out [in the classroom] and try to be the super exciting exuberant presenter.”
The bow ties and the theatrics keep the students engaged and in a good mood. They look forward to coming to class.
“I think that that's especially [important] with freshmen. You have to go that extra step to get them engaged and bring them out of their shells. Being just a little bit over the top gets their attention.”
Hylton suggests that instructors become performers.
“Find the thing that works for you and makes your problems authentic and relatable for students. The best thing we can do is help students learn without them even realizing it. I know I am succeeding. In a course evaluation this last semester, a student wrote 'I got to the end of the semester and realized I'd learned a bunch without realizing I was learning.'"
"That’s the goal, right? Help them have fun while also learning."