By Ashley VillanuevaOn Tuesday, May 7, 2019, the Graduate Division and Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) Teaching and Resource Center presented Conner Hunihan with the Outstanding GSI Award in Engineering at the International House. The Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor (OGSI) Award honors over 200 UC Berkeley GSIs each year and recipients are nominated from within their teaching department. Conner led curriculum development & implementation for two courses at the Fung Institute. In Fall 2019, he helped to redesign E270C: Teaming & Project Management. In the Spring 2019, he helped to launch and design E270K: Coaching for High Performing Teams. Both courses are key components of integrated curriculum that is a key aspect of the MEng program. Alex Beliaev, Director of Academic Capstone Experience, nominated Conner for the award and shared: “Conner has made outstanding contributions to the program. He is one of a handful of people who consistently combines a wide range of practical skills with a deep-seated commitment to start with why. Whether drawing on his existing tool box or creating new tools, his is always focused on students’ needs.” We sat down with Conner to reflect on his Outstanding GSI Award recognition:
You’ve been involved in various educational projects before Cal; what’s different about Cal?Before going back to school, I taught third grade at a school for the gifted and was also involved with an educational startup. While the focus on experiential learning has been similar, the depth and complexity of the material covered at Cal — particularly in the MEng program — is astounding. Berkeley truly is one of the world’s leading public research institutions, and you feel that spirit with the students, faculty, and staff.
Why were you interested in working for the MEng program?I became involved with the MEng program initially through a Graduate Student Research (GSR) opportunity with Lee Fleming. Lee was asked to develop a publishing platform for research funded by the NSF’s SciSIP program, and over the course of the semester, I helped manage a team of fellow Fung staff to design, develop, and publish what would ultimately become the Science and Innovation Hub (SIH). Though the GSR was only for a semester, I returned to the MEng program this year because an incredible opportunity presented itself to help develop curriculum and lead program evaluation efforts for E270C & K. I have always enjoyed operating at both strategy and execution levels, and working alongside Academic Capstone Director Alex Beliaev and instructor Keith Tandowsky has been a tremendous highlight during my time here at Berkeley.
You’ve seen first-hand how MEng students tackle project management challenges. Is there any advice you can share?Start early! No matter the size or complexity of the project, things always take longer than expected. A friend of mine lives by the mantra of taking a project estimate and tripling it. It sounds absurd, until it turns out to be true.
You’ve seen first-hand how MEng students tackle teaming challenges. Is there any advice you can share?Schedule time to be “off.” The weight of looming deadlines has a tendency to make us all focus on the immediate horizon, but the brain needs time to process. History is littered with epiphanies that arrive unexpectedly, and teams that structure their time and work to allow for “time off” tend to be more effectively.
You were able to GSI while pursuing an intensive professional program. What would you recommend to someone who’s considering doing the same?Look for opportunities to combine efforts. There is so much happening at Berkeley, no matter what your program is, there is bound to be an opportunity to leverage your academic experience. For me, I will be joining a design agency after graduation as an Experience Designer. That was my goal throughout the program, which is why I jumped, first at the opportunity to work first with Lee on the SIH platform, but then again this year to help shape the Capstone experience for future students.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?Take advantage of your time at Berkeley to explore beyond your program. I was fortunate to have students from the MEng program in a few of my classes over the last two years, and it was always so valuable to have a blending of perspective and skills on projects. Conner recently graduated from Berkeley’s School of Information with a focus on system and user experience design. Currently an Experience Designer at EchoUser, Conner’s previous work includes prototyping big data products for Autodesk, creation of a storytelling platform for the Nueva School, design of enrollment features for CalCentral, and consulting on product strategies for smart city and education-focused startups in San Francisco. Conner holds a B.A. in Environmental Sciences from Colorado College and is a graduate of the Peace Corps. Connect with Conner.
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