Vocation Quest Part Two: Engineers Continuing Their Voyage Are Guided By President Spina

This series follows two UD engineering students, Joshua Romo and Tom Tappel, who are on a mission to discover how successful engineering majors found their own vocation, as well as their major fitting in with the University’s purpose, “The University For The Common Good.” This is part two of the series.

We invite you to read part one here.

Liz Kyle
News Editor

Continuing their journey of exploration through an engineering lense, Joshua Romo and Tom Tappel are still eager to search for their area of study’s connection with vocation and UD’s mission statement. They have been given insight from Brother Ray Fitz, SM., who is a Fr. Ferree Professor of Social Justice in the Fitz Center for Leadership in Community. So far, they are feeling optimistic with their interview techniques and they even feel more confident when examining their own unique vocational journeys.

“We make sure to talk about the interview right after it happens. We believe our initial feelings right after the interview is important,” Romo said. “We go into the interview with a set number of questions. It starts very structured, but within two minutes of speaking, things just start to flow. We get the best results from the interviews by being present in the moment, and I’ve been connecting that to what vocation means to me.”

“It’s been very cool that Josh and I have been able to study vocation for the Chaminade Scholars, but now it’s even more interesting to look at it from an engineer’s mindset. Br. Ray’s idea of the engineer’s ‘design mindset’ has really stuck out to me so far,” said Tappel.

They moved along their path of attaining wisdom Nov. 7 when they sat down with the University’s president, Dr. Eric F. Spina. Spina has been serving as president of the university since July 1, 2016.

Romo (right) and Tappel (left) posing with Dr. Spina (middle).

Before joining the UD community, he began his career as a faculty member in the college of engineering and computer science at Syracuse University, then eventually made his way up the ladder of succession to chair, and then dean of the department. In 2007, Spina became SU’s vice chancellor and provost.

When reflecting on his own vocation, Spina believes he began to experience glimpses of it towards the end of his undergraduate career at Carnegie Mellon University while studying mechanical engineering. At the beginning of his college career, he began to question if engineering was the true path for him. However, once he began to take more engineering-focused courses, he knew he was on the right path.

“By the time of my junior year, I took a slew of mechanics courses and structures courses,” Spina said. “While taking these classes, I was thinking, ‘Oh! These are the building blocks you can actually put into practice.’ That was when I started to hear my vocation a little bit.”

With the signs of his vocation at his fingertips, he continued his academic career at Princeton University, graduating with his doctorate and master’s degrees in mechanical and aerospace engineering. The connections he built with faculty and undergraduate students he taught as a teaching assistant showed him that he wanted to live a life with the purpose of making a difference.

“You hang around academics for long enough and you realize that’s a life I could lead in which I could make a difference,” Spina said. “It’s all about impact and that’s what I was looking for. The combination of reflecting on the teachers who have had an impact on my life and getting that initial taste as a TA, interacting with students and helping that with research, I felt satisfaction from that.”
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Spina always valued the importance of taking time out of his schedule for some family time and self-reflecting. When looking at college student populations in general, he believes there is a lack of time spent on thinking about one’s vocation. In order to lead students around the roadblock, Spina believes students should be feel encouraged to reflect within their area of studies.

“I think we can always do more to support our students in really reflecting. Here, we’re a values based institution, and I think the university really stands for something,” Spina said. “The more time we can help our students think about reflection and how to put it all together in a way that will make them passionate about what they’re going to do, then they’ll be able to contribute to their community.”

Under Spina’s presidency, he has implemented a path for the university: “The University For The Common Good.” In terms of including engineering into this path and discovering their own vocation along the way. He believes engineers at UD have the potential to become the problem-solvers in society and have a true impact on the world around them.

“As engineers, I don’t think we give ourselves enough credit for this, but we actually think about problems. We should be thinking about the problems rather than the solutions, let’s face it, we have the solutions part down,” Spina said. “I think undergraduate education is all about learning the importance of being a responsible citizen in the world, and I see UD doing this better than most places. I’ll put our engineers up against anyone else’s in terms of what their value systems are, what kinds of jobs they’re going to do and how they’re going to do them.”

Photo courtesy of Joshua Romo and Tom Tappel