Dynamic Duo

Marshall Adrian and Farshad Farahbakhshian are familiar faces in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS), so much so they have earned their own nicknames — “Mar-Mar” and “Far-Far,” or, because they are so often together, “MarFar.”

Tekbots at Oregon State

Marshall Adrian and Farshad Farahbakhshian are students who helped innovate the hands-on Tekbot program in OSU's school of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (Photo by Jan Sonnemair)

The electrical and computer engineering undergrads have taken getting involved so seriously that they seem essential to their school’s community. They’ve been up for just about any task, from giving last minute presentations for high school students, to making videos about OSU engineering alums or meeting with industry representatives. They’ve sold t-shirts at the annual Engineering Expo, and participated in every program they could that let them work with incoming or lower-division students in a mentoring role.

The idea is to get students engaged in the curriculum, and to show them what kinds of opportunities they’ll have after they graduate. “I’m always telling people it’s fun. It’s exciting. There are a lot great of jobs. And we use our personalities to show that engineers are not boring people sitting in cubicles,” Marshall says.

Marshall and Farshad first met during START, a pre-enrollment orientation for incoming OSU students. Marshall was a sophomore mentor for the program where he was teaching a course to build a small electronic device, and Farshad was an entering freshman. Marshall made an impression on Farshad as the “big, goofy guy” who helped him fix his circuits.

The following year they worked together as mentors in the START program. What began as a mentoring relationship, developed into a firm friendship, and finally a partnership of service and leadership to EECS.

Last year, Marshall and Farshad taught a lab section together under the peer mentoring program, in which sophomores through seniors teach sections of introductory laboratory courses and make themselves available for mentoring outside of the class.
Although Farshad knew his friend well, Marshall’s casual style of teaching surprised him. But the effects were advantageous.

“After my first year of teaching in a more formal way, I decided I’m just going to have fun with this,” Marshall says.

So he and Marshall, while taking their teaching seriously, still played music during lab, even taking song requests from the students, and made the atmosphere light by joking with them. “Having fun enables learning,” Marshall says.

Although the main purpose of the mentoring program is helping the freshmen get through the introductory classes and giving them a social support system, they both feel they have benefited by learning leadership skills, solidifying their knowledge, and making valuable connections with professors.

It was the first step to many more opportunities. “Once you open one door, you’ll find that opens three doors, all of which open more doors, and it just keeps going and building momentum,” Farshad says.

In addition to the peer mentoring program, Marshall and Farshad worked during the summers on internships to innovate the EECS curriculum, which is designed to reinforce theory with hands-on experiences. Called Tekbot, the program involves students building a robot throughout their four years of coursework, and actively involves students in the creative learning. In 2006 the program won the Major Educational Innovation Award from IEEE, the world’s largest professional society for the advancement of technology.

“Every year it gets a little bit better and we add new things and people come up with creative ideas to make it cooler,” Farshad says. For example, one of the latest improvements to the Tekbot is a solar tracker that rotates a solar panel to gather the most intense sunlight.

This year, EECS started a peer advising program to further ensure student success. Marshall and Farshad were among the first to volunteer.

“We have the peer insight,” Marshall says. “It’s usually freshmen and sophomores who come in, so we’ve been through all those classes, we know what they were like and can give recommendations. And for the students it’s a more relaxed atmosphere than going to a professional adviser or a professor.”

According to EECS director Terri Fiez, she couldn’t find better ambassadors for the school. “They really contribute to the program overall as leaders helping other students, building an environment and a culture that’s extremely supportive, dynamic, and fun, and at the same time maintaining high standards,” she says.

-by Rachel Robertson

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