University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering


Industrial Engineering Major Captures 'Engines of Our Ingenuity' Scholarship


Portia-Elaine Gant
Photo by Jeff Shaw

While engineers with a background in elementary education are not ordinary or plentiful, the 2001 scholarship committee still named Rebecca Ginsburg as the first winner of the John Lienhard “Engines of Our Ingenuity” Scholarship Endowment. Ginsburg’s unique situation is one that corresponded with the scholarship committee’s quest for a creative thinker, and with a description of creativity shaped by John Lienhard, M.D. Anderson Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering and History, at the University of Houston.

“I think you drive down a road and you know where you’re headed, and you know where you want to go.” Lienhard said. “Then a side road to somewhere else comes along, and you have the wits to see it.”

With no intention of doing so, Lienhard has defined Ginsburg’s situation precisely. In the hopes of achieving a dream birthed in the third grade, Ginsburg completed her first bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies.

“Teaching runs in my family; it was in my blood. Part of it was that I loved school, and I really liked a lot of my teachers. I decided I wanted to be a teacher when I was in the 3rd grade, and it’s a typical kid thing to want to be what you like,” Ginsburg said.

However, after two years of teaching first grade and tutoring sixth grade students, Ginsburg felt dissatisfied.

“I wasn’t enjoying teaching, and I knew I had to leave because it wasn’t something I would be great at, and that would have been wasting the students’ time and my own,” Ginsburg said.

It was during the last stretch of the school year that she took notice of her side road.

“A friend of mine worked for Johnson O’Connor. They originally came up with natural aptitude tests to determine what line of work people should be hired for, and they have expanded that through a lot more research and testing,” Ginsburg explained.

Ginsburg’s unaffected interest in logic-based things was evident to her prior to the test, but the results led her in a new direction.

“The test results said I was good at things like memory for numbers and memory for design,” Ginsburg said. “That didn’t really tell me much because I do things like logic puzzles for fun, so that made sense. Then I was handed a list of careers that would be good for me, and I took one look at the list and didn’t see teacher on there.”

While the tester explained that she would not advise anyone to forgo their current career, Ginsburg saw the results as a sign that she needed a change. That is when she decided to return to school and study engineering.

“When I came back to school, I thought I had narrowed it down to civil or mechanical engineering, but I went to Dean Witte, and he asked if I had thought of industrial engineering. I decided to give it a shot after speaking to a few people. I took one semester’s worth of classes, and I fell in love with industrial engineering.”

Ginsburg returned to college in 2001 and also began working in the Honors College, which she had been a member of during her undergraduate studies.

“In the Honors College, it’s a small liberal arts feel. They have their own dorms and programs; they take care of their own,” Ginsburg said. “You spend a lot of time in the Honors College, so you get to know the staff and they know you. It’s nice to be in an environment where the dean knows just about everyone’s name.”

The fact that Dean Ted Estess, and associate dean Dr. William Monroe knew Ginsburg’s name was a factor in her reception of the Lienhard scholarship.

“The first year people were nominated; Dr. Estess and Dr. Monore nominated me. They told me it was a new scholarship, and they didn’t have all of the information about the award,” Ginsburg said.

Both Estess and Monroe viewed Ginsburg’s return to school in a different area of study, as well as her strong academic background, as key factors in nominating her for the scholarship.

“She was a post bachelor student who had taken a degree in math education, and she came back to study engineering, and she had no scholarship,” Estess said. “More importantly, she was an excellent student. Dr. Monroe and I thought that she met the criteria of the scholarship, so we nominated her. We were delighted that she was selected for the scholarship, and she certainly has done well in engineering. We hope that honors students receive a strong foundation in reading, writing and computation. Those students tend to do well in whatever major they pursue. Honors students also develop strong communication capacities, speaking in addition to writing. That certainly was the case for Rebecca Ginsburg.”

Ginsburg received the Lienhard scholarship again during her fourth year, and immediately began her masters with financial assistance through the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

“I had a really good opportunity with Dr. Lawrence Schulze and the NIOSH and Fogerty International Training Center,” Ginsburg said. “The NIOSH program gave me a stipend, paid all of my tuition and fees, plus I received a budget for travel. Dr. Schulze offered me this opportunity, and it wasn’t one I could pass up. This program gave me the opportunity to purse safety and ergonomics, both fields I was interested in, and get paid to do it.”

Schulze noted Ginsburg’s talent and how her education experience could be of use in their study of valves with turning devices.

“Her engineering talents and education background provide her with a unique opportunity to develop engineering controls and appropriate training material,” Dr. Schulze said.

After finishing her masters, Ginsburg wants enter the fields of safety and ergonomics.


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