Dr. Jeffrey Herrmann has been a staple in the QUEST community for the past decade. Occupying a position as the Associate Director when he first joined and most recently, as the BMGT/ENES 490H instructor, he has changed the program in many ways.
He has a unique perspective that only comes with years of experience, so before leaving for his sabbatical, I made sure to sit down with him to better understand who he is and the impact he’s had on the QUEST program.
When did you join the QUEST program, and how were things different back then?
When I first joined, I was working with Dr. Suarez, who was the Executive Director at the time. I’d been a faculty advisor for a couple of projects before that, and in 2007, I got asked to serve as the Associate Director.
From my perspective, the mission of the program has stayed the same all these years. It’s an undergraduate program that gives students from three colleges the opportunity to learn timeless skills. Along with that, the core courses have stayed the same despite us adding new electives such as the data analysis, scoping, and study abroad courses.
If the core mission and structure have stayed the same, have the methods shifted during your time here?
We’ve always had an emphasis on active learning. Having said that, the nature of the projects, especially in 190H, has changed over the years with the introduction of atoms-, bits-based, and on-campus consulting projects. It’s safe to say these types of classes have become even more active as time has passed.
Thinking back on your time with the program, what would you say are your happiest moments?
The happiest moments come from being with the great people in QUEST. I’ve been fortunate to be the faculty advisor for numerous 490H projects in which I’ve been able to see the students go on site visits to clients, and their excitement for learning more is infectious. At the end of the project, the QUEST conference and client presentations are also amazing. To see them deliver value and solve difficult problems is a great feeling.
On the other hand, working with Dr. Bailey, Dr. Armstrong, Jessica Macklin, and everyone else who’s been involved with the program has been a great experience. Working with them in a professional context has been eye opening, but even the casual experiences, like making our cheer at QUEST camp, have been a lot of fun.
Which course do you think provides the most value to students?
The students are very different. Some will see 490H and the consulting project as the opportunity where they learned the most. For some, 390H was their favorite part of QUEST because it gives them a chance to explore new ideas and gain new techniques. For a lot of other students, 190H is the course they connect with the most. It’s difficult to pick one course because they’re designed in a sequence so that students learn more as they go through.
If you can’t pin one course, then is there one skill that you think all students should pick up from QUEST?
That skill would be the general skill of being able to talk to a client, understand their situation, and identify ways to make it better, then to do the analysis and evaluation needed to make an effective recommendation. It’s a skill that’s reinforced in every course and even some of the electives as well.
What is something that you hope to see change in the future of the QUEST program?
I believe the QUEST students will continue to find ways to make the QUEST community a better place to be based on their interests and skills. What makes QUEST so special is the support that students receive to pursue their ideas. I imagine students coming up with activities, events, and different structures to help each other learn and feel more connected to the program.
Shifting away from the program, what do you hope to accomplish during your sabbatical?
I’m looking forward to spending a lot of time working with engineers and researchers at the Naval Air Warfare Center at the Naval Air Station Patuxent River down in southern Maryland. They have a group that works on route planning for autonomous systems (unmanned aerial vehicles, unmanned surface ships, etc.) for different Navy missions. I’m very excited to learn more about what they’re doing in terms of their systems and their research.
I’ll be looking into difficult problems that occur when planning missions that involve unmanned vehicles, and I’ll be continuing the research I do here on campus. I’ll also be working on proposals for funding with different agencies and meeting a lot of new people during the process.
After the sabbatical, do you have plans on coming back to the program, and if so, what do you want to bring with you when you return?
Being a faculty advisor would be a fun thing to do again. In terms of how my sabbatical will impact things, I’ll be learning about new technologies and new techniques (data analysis and optimization) so maybe those techniques will be relevant to different project areas throughout the program.
Thanks Dr. Herrmann for your 10 years of service to QUEST!