13 Oct 2022
Nicola Brown is a Senior Lecturer of Engineering and Food Technology at Massey University. She sits down with us to discuss what inspired her to get into engineering, incorporating the principles of sustainability into her teaching and lessons she's learnt along the way.
What is your role at Massey University?
I’m a Senior Lecturer and I teach into the Engineering and Food Technology programmes. I'm the Project Spine Coordinator which means I oversee all the project-based learning courses which we offer in these programmes and I'm also the Major Leader for Chemical and Bioprocess Engineering.
Who or what inspired you to enter the wonderful world of engineering?
I grew up on a dairy farm in Taranaki and lived close to a dairy factory. From outside the factory all you could see were large stainless steel tanks and huge buildings. I was fascinated with what happened behind the gates and how milk could be processed to make so many different products. This led me to study Bioprocess Engineering.
How do you incorporate the principles of sustainability in your teaching?
To me it's important to not only teach the students about sustainable development but to actually get them to use their sustainability knowledge to inform their decision making. This makes it a perfect area to focus on in our project-based learning courses.
The students work in teams to propose solutions to real world problems. This highlights the importance of sustainable development but also gets them to appreciate some of the complexities when we look at global systems.
How has bioprocess engineering changed since you studied it at undergraduate level and how has it remained the same?
There are many things which have remained the same but I think the biggest change has been in the shift to recognise the importance of developing sustainable processes and products. This is driving a lot of change in the industry now and it’s great to see people developing innovative solutions by thinking outside of the box.
What have you learnt from your students during your years of teaching?
I'm continually learning from the students I teach in many ways. Over the last few years I've found it very interesting to see the ways students communicate, share information and plan their team projects. There are so many new online platforms being developed which are really helpful and I pick up great tips all the time!
What book do you recommend all engineering students read and why?
I don’t have any specific recommendations, but I would encourage students to read something which challenges their way of thinking. It's important to realise that we develop solutions for other people so anything which expands your way of thinking is beneficial.
Why are you a member of Engineering New Zealand?
I think professional societies play many important roles. Membership allows me to connect and network with other professionals. The professional development opportunities are also very useful, and I keep an eye out for online seminars of interest. The most recent one I attended was the Cultural and Environmental Values seminar, and I am looking forward to the next one in the series.
What do you do in your spare time?
I have two daughters who are 4 and 6 years old, so they keep me busy on the weekends. I also enjoy spending time in the garden and doing some DIY around the house.