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Faculty Profile: Meet Dr. Peter McKeon!

Posted by Ije

Georgia Tech-Lorraine students have built relationships with fellow classmates and neighbors, but how well do we know our faculty? Last week I sat down with Dr. Peter McKeon, a professor here at Georgia Tech-Lorraine. This semester, he teaches ME 3017 (Systems Dynamics) and COE 2001 (Statics).

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Dr. McKeon

Dr. Mckeon received his undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, and his Masters and PhD through Georgia Tech-Lorraine (Fun fact #1: Dr. McKeon did his undergraduate degree with Dr. Layton, who also teaches classes at GTL.) He wrote his thesis in collaboration with the Insitut de Soudure, which involved a numerical and experimental study on developing a structural health monitoring system for high pressure gas reservoirs.

How did Dr. McKeon end up at Georgia Tech-Lorraine? It all started with a visit to Atlanta. There, he met Dr. Declercq, who convinced him to come to France for a research assistant job. (Fun fact #2: Dr. McKeon did his Masters and PhD entirely at Georgia Tech-Lorraine. He has only been to the Atlanta campus once).

Let’s go back even further. As a child, Dr. McKeon first aspired to be a zookeeper. His career dreams transformed as he grew older, and in high school he found he enjoyed physics. He liked that physics could predict what was going to happen in the world. By knowing some fundamental qualities of objects, he could predict a variety of outcomes, from their speed to their motion/trajectory. In college, Dr. McKeon enjoyed his music theory classes, and described these years as a time when he first became a mature musician. (Fun fact #3: Dr. McKeon played bass, guitar, and viola when he was little, as well as a little bit of a piano. He also took voice lessons). He studied the theory and mathematics behind music, and found there were many similarities between his two sets of interests.

Dr. McKeon enjoys many aspects of teaching. However, his favorite part is getting to interact with excited and curious students. He loves to see students engaged and eager to learn, already thinking ahead about how they can use the information he’s taught them and apply them to the real world. He described this as the beginning of a creative process, that he loves to be a part of.  I asked Dr. McKeon what his favorite subject is to teach, to which he responded without hesitation: Systems Dynamics. It was his own favorite engineering class, and the first time he truly felt like an engineer. Systems dynamics draws information from a variety of courses (differential equations, calculus, statics, electronic circuits, fluid mechanics, you name it) and makes something cohesive. In Dr. McKeon’s words, the class is “one culmination of understanding of math and science.” It was what first got him interested in acoustics (ironic, because he’s a musician) as a physics discipline. (Fun Fact #4: His PhD is in System Dynamics, Acoustics and Controls. He does work with structural acoustics, which are mechanical vibrations through material).

Dr. McKeon is involved in several hobbies outside the classroom. He plays mandolin and guitar in a band, and plays gigs on different nights here in Metz. He also manages one of Metz’s baseball teams. (Fun Fact #5: His favorite band is the Avett Brothers, and his favorite baseball team is the Pittsburgh Pirates).

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Dr. McKeon and his mother at Neuschwanstein Castle (Germany)

I asked Dr. McKeon what the best phrase was to describe Georgia Tech-Lorraine, to which he answered, “Georgia Tech’s foothold and portal to Europe.” Surely, many students would agree that this is a spot on description of our current experiences. Metz holds a very special place in Dr. McKeon’s heart. In fact, he described it as one of the prettiest French towns he’s ever been too. “Downtown is gorgeous, and very appealing aesthetically. The people of Metz are very friendly for the most part. There’s a lot of history here and people have not forgotten it. There are a lot of American cemeteries around this region. The older generation has gratitude toward Americans for the role that we played in their liberation. So it’s special for us to be here in this north east region of France.” Dr. McKeon also loves Metz’s central location. “With one bus ride, I can be at the Luxembourg airport. There’s a one hour train ride to Germany. And I can take the TGV for a day trip to Paris.”

One piece of advice for Georgia Tech-Lorraine students? Dr. McKeon has plenty. “ I think that students are in general too hard on themselves. I think they often expect a lot of themselves, and this experience in general is a very cool experience, but not an easy one.  Many students travel every weekend, and it’s a lot to take in. Allow yourself time to breathe while you’re here. Schedule in a few days of rest. Realize you’re not super humans. Prioritize and budget your time to be effective.

But wait, there’s more! “Students should also realize the advantages that Georgia Tech-Lorraine has, and try to leverage and take advantage of them as much as possible. For example, lectures here are tiny classes with a lot of almost one-on-one attention. These same classes would be huge lectures in Atlanta. Use this opportunity to participate in class and get the extra help you need.”

One last piece of advice from Dr. McKeon: “In general, realize that education can be a group activity. We should be striving to learn together and not try to do everything on our own. Students should try to help each other learn as much as possible. It’s better for everybody if everyone can learn the material together.”

Look out for Dr. McKeon in the halls of Georgia Tech-Lorraine! And stay tuned for more Faculty Profiles to come!

 

Field Trip Chronicles: La Grange aux Pains

This past weekend my History & Sociology class took a special field trip to La Grange aux Pains. La Grange aux Pains is a boulangerie and pâtisserie located in Montigny-les-Metz, France, owned by husband and wife Priscilla and Rémi Pruvost. The bakery has achieved tremendous success since its opening in 2009, and is frequented by local and loyal customers from surrounding areas. It is the ideal spot for one craving a fresh baguette or pastry on their way to work. La Grange aux Pains is recognized as a boulangerie and pâttiserie because each day, everything item is baked fresh, (Fun fact: Large bakery enterprises such as Paul cannot call themselves a boulangerie or pâttiserie for this very reason), from chocolate covered croissants to curry chicken paninis to mini beignets. And that’s what makes La Grange aux Pains all the more special.

Our trip began with a detailed tour of the facility. Priscilla led us to the back room of the bakery, where they receive daily shipments of ingredients and supplies. Next, we entered the main baking room, where all of the magic happens. We watched as two apprentices prepared croissants from scratch, folding triangular pieces of dough into perfect half-crescent moon shapes. Granted, all of our mouths were watering at this point, and our tour had just begun. Next we were shown the different pieces of machinery used in the baking process. A giant 3-level oven took up a large portion of the room. Priscilla and Rémi use the oven to bake baguettes, bagels, and other various forms of bread. Other machines in the room included a spiral mixer in the corner, along with a dough cutter and a baguette moulder placed along a table. These machines, now used frequently to help speed up production, did not exist some time ago. French bakers hand-crafted their bread and pastries with art and precision, often beginning the baking process at early and odd hours. Modern machinery has since replaced the need for so much manual labor. However, it is still necessary that skilled bakers like Priscilla and Rémi are present. For example, water temperature is an extremely important factor to consider when baking bread, as it can affect bread consistency and size. Often times, a baker is needed to go outside and get a feel for the weather. Depending on whether it’s hot, rainy, or cold, the baker will then adjust the water temperature accordingly. This is certainly not, and may never be, a job for an industrial machine.

Next, Priscilla led the group to a smaller room, where we ate samples of some of her staple bread and pastries. She pointed out the key differences in two of the baguettes she served us, regarding their shape, size, texture, and color. One baguette had been hand-made (formally called a banette), and the other had been made by a machine. We could barely tell the difference as Americans, but according to Priscilla, the French can point them out quite easily. After lunch at the Botanical Garden of Metz (ham sandwiches and chicken paninis prepared by none other than Priscilla), we returned to La Grange aux Pains for a special baking lesson. Yes! We got to bake our very own baguettes and bagels from scratch! Each of us found a spot alongside a long, wooden table, fresh dough in hand, and watched Priscilla and Rémi as they gave step-by step instructions on to how to shape our soon-to-be bread. The best part? We got to take everything we baked home with us! And to top off an already wonderful baking experience, Priscilla gave each of us a parting gift: a loaf of sweet bread topped with tiny white chocolate chips.

I’ve been on some pretty cool field trips in life, but I have to say, my experience at La Grange aux Pains takes the cake (pun intended). How many students can say they baked fresh bread, under the instruction of two highly-skilled French bakers, at an authentic boulangerie and pâtteserie this semester? Only fifteen, and I’m so thankful I was one of them! 

 

BDE Super Bowl Extravaganza!

The BDE’s first event of the semester was nothing short of a success. At 11:30 pm, groups of both French and American students poured into the GTL Lounge and carefully chose a good seat for the game. Many had just returned from long weekend trips. Others had a handful of assignments to complete, and pulled out textbooks and laptops as soon as they arrived. No one could miss one of the most exciting sports games of the year. The audience consisted of a diverse group of fans. Of course, there were a fair share of die-hard Panthers and Broncos supporters. But many students, both French and American, came to the event with the intent to meet new people and also learn about the game of football.

Food was served early on, and in minutes, the pizza, chips, and popcorn disappeared from the main table. Hunger then satisfied, everyone was ready for kickoff. At first, most sat comfortably with their respective groups of friends. But as time progressed, many branched out to mix and mingle with other French and American students. A sense of community certainly developed in the student lounge that night.

Halftime came by quickly, and the Broncos led the Panthers 13 to 7. All eyes were on the projector screen as Coldplay, Bruno Mars, and Beyonce took the stage in a spectacular Super Bowl Halftime performance. Soon after, large groups of students began to file out with yawns, while the loyal football fans stuck around for the second half. At 4 am, only a mere 10 students and a security guard remained. They watched with tired eyes as the Broncos pulled out with a win. Members of the BDE helped clean up the lounge area, and headed home with their first successful event in the books.

Stay tuned for news on upcoming BDE events!

Au Revoir 🙂

GTL Reflections

It is officially Week 3 at GTL and things are in full swing. As I write, there are students sitting quietly in the communal lounge, carefully poring through their textbooks and making notes for class. Others are more frantic, working to complete their Def Bods and Statics assignments on time. Some head back to Lafayette to sneak in a short nap before evening class begins. Another group is finished for the day and is heading to downtown Metz for a night of shopping and festivities.

I can already sense that we are different from the wide-eyed students who arrived in Metz, France on the 11th. In a few short weeks, we have become tourists, experienced travellers, and even food critics. Moreover, we are cautious, yet curious about our new surroundings. Students have already ventured off to Paris, Barcelona, and Budapest – at this rate, we are well on our way to exploring all corners of Europe.

Hundreds of photographs have been captured and shared on our Facebook pages for friends and family to enjoy. Friend requests have been sent and accepted, planting the seed to foster new bonds. Travel interest groups have formed and plans to explore Europe are in full effect. In this fast-paced, whirlwind between school and travel it is imperative to pause and take it all in.

So far, we have made multiple trips to CORA and Simply. Some students are cooking and preparing meals for the first time, relying on a balance between trial and error and experimentation. For many, the language barrier is palpable and challenging. That said, with each passing day, there is an increasing level of comfort with the French language, and that is certainly promising. Navigating and exploring Metz has been quite the experience, but with each week this once unfamiliar city is beginning to feel more like home.

We’ll continue to plan every minute detail of our trips and book the cheapest hostels we can find. We’ll depart for the train station early Friday morning to begin our exciting weekend adventures. Upon our return, the problem set we left on our desk will be there, ready to greet us. Of course, we’ll question whether it will be possible to complete the assignment before the start of class the next morning…or if we can continue to balance a Tech course load and world travel for the next 12 weeks. But we got to Georgia Tech, and we can do that.

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Au Revoir for now!

-Ije

 

Oh, the Places I’ll Go!
 Pre-departure Reflections.

  • St. Stephen’s Cathedral - Vienna, Austria

One book that is very near and dear to me is Dr. Seuss’s ever-popular, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”. The story centers around an unnamed protagonist who is understandably cautious and uncertain about the journey in front of him. There are incredible messages and pieces of wisdom that I have carried with me since childhood and such advice is applicable to anyone about to undergo a major life transition. As I prepare to study abroad at Georgia Tech Lorraine in Metz, France, I think back to Dr. Seuss’s words and am reminded to embrace change with open arms.

If someone told me six months ago that I’d soon be embarking on the trip of a lifetime, I would certainly express some disbelief. As much as I have wanted to travel abroad on my own, a small part of me did not believe it was a tangible reality in my near future. I must admit that it was a simple, yet moving message from a fortune cookie last semester that pushed me to follow through and make my dreams of travelling abroad come to fruition. I had just finished eating dinner at Panda Express — as was my bi-weekly ritual. That day, the fortune in my cookie read, “You will take a pleasant journey to a place far away.” For me, this message felt serendipitous and could not have arrived at a better time. I kept this fortune and it prompted me to reevaluate why I was not actively pursuing a study abroad experience while at Georgia Tech. The words were straightforward and the signs were all there — I needed to make the leap and pursue this study abroad opportunity wholeheartedly.

A few summers ago, I had the privilege of travelling to Nigeria with my family for a month-long vacation to visit friends and family we hadn’t seen in a long time. Although I was raised in a Nigerian household, it wasn’t until this trip that I was able to truly grasp and observe the cultural underpinnings of Nigerian society and traditions. Moreover, I visited major metropolitan cities including Lagos, Abuja, and Enugu as well as the ancestral villages of Nnewi and Awkuzu. My time in Nigeria certainly sparked a bit of wanderlust in me — I cannot wait to travel abroad again. As much as I am excited to go to France I, like the subject of “Oh the Places You’ll Go!”, I am also nervous for what is to come. In Nigeria, we stayed in the comfort of my grandparent’s home, surrounded by a familiar culture, food, and language. In France, I will be exploring uncharted waters.

I applied to Georgia Tech Lorraine because I knew that I wanted to grow both academically and personally. Going to France means transplanting myself to an unfamiliar part of the globe, but I am confident that taking this leap will ultimately bring self-growth. In removing myself from the comfort of Georgia Tech in Atlanta, I am challenging myself to be more vulnerable and to view the world through a new lens. I expect that there will be inevitable social and cultural differences, but I plan to wield these differences to inspire a new frame of thinking about the world.

There is much to gain from this study abroad experience. I will learn how to be a global engineer, and most importantly a global citizen. The fact that GT Lorraine is an internationally renowned program was also a major draw for me. I want to soak up as much as possible while in Metz, France. I must confess that I am the stereotypical tourist who enjoys taking pictures and visiting historic landmarks. The Gothic Saint-Stephen Cathedral and the Basilica of Saint-Pierre-aux-Nonnains are definitely on my must-see list!

Two months from now, I will be moving to GT Lorraine’s campus. I am eager to explore the beautiful city of Metz, France and I cannot wait to venture to other cities in Europe as well. I look forward to making new friends and interacting with new people. While in France, I hope to gain a basic understanding of the French language and culture. I have already downloaded a French language app on my phone for early practice! I will surely miss my friends and family while I am away, but I am excited to build new bonds and sharing new memories. My full name, Ijeabalum, translates to “my life’s journey has been worthwhile”. My name is a powerful badge that reminds me to make the most of life’s journey and to strike the balance between remaining grounded while venturing out to try something new and different.

I’ll end my first post with my favorite lines from the book:

“You’re off to Great Places!

Today is your day!

Your mountain is waiting,

So… get on your way!”

Until next time!

-Ije

Ije3

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