When creativity meets problem solving: Engineering professor discusses her love of literature

There is a way to keep the left brain and right brain happy, and mechanical engineering professor and author Jenn Stroud Rossmann is proof of that.

Rossmann said she expresses the importance of maintaining both the creative and scientific part of students’ brains happy. Aside from co-authoring a mechanical engineering textbook, she wrote a novel, “The Place You’re Supposed to Laugh,” which will be published in Fall 2018 by 7.13 books. She also writes book reviews for Public Books and the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper.

Her recent published short stories include “Table for Two” (2017) published in jmww journal with a Best Small Fictions nomination, “The Disaster Specialist” (2017) published in CHEAP POP, “Non-Stick” (2016), which was a finalist for an award from Tethered by Letters, published in Literary Orphans, and more.

“I really enjoy puzzling things out and figuring out complicated calculations or designing something that would make [work] in the lab better,” she said. “But I also enjoy storytelling and figuring out how to make a story work, whether that’s editing someone else’s or working on it on my own.

“[Solving calculations and storytelling] are both fundamentally creative, and also have lots of puzzles, but they also do different things for my soul and I’m not satisfied if I don’t get both,” she added.

In Rossmann’s office and on her website, she displays “The Great Wave off Kanagawa,” a painting by Katsushika Hokusai. She said the painting is a picture of fluid mechanics, which she connects to her teaching and understanding of its relevance to a larger part of the world.

“Just like Van Gogh’s paintings sometimes include galaxies in the sky and I think that that’s really lovely,” she said. “It helps me understand that it’s relevant, not just because of something I can design or calculate, but also because there’s beauty in it, and its part of the larger world. So, it’s helpful for me to think about all of society, all of culture and not just one narrow part of it.”

Rossmann said she hesitates to make a list of pieces of literature that are her favorite and have affected her in some way because of the possibility of leaving something out.

“I’ve always loved to read, I was always the kid who could lose [herself] in a book and just consume [and] breathe books, read them so fast and I’d want to talk to someone about them,” Rossmann said.

Amongst her favorite authors and poets are Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, Geraldine Brooks, Morgan Parker and Lafayette English Professor and poet, Megan Fernandes.

Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita is one of her favorite novels.

“It’s almost like poetry. It begs to be read out loud. So, beginning that book, I just adored it.”

Depending on whether the course she teaches is interdisciplinary, Rossmann said she likes to incorporate history and writing into the class.

“Most of my engineering classes have lots of history and I always ask students to explain ideas in words and not just equations,” she said. “One of my favorite classes to teach is a class that sort of combines the history of technology with the way literature reflects technology.”

Literature helps Rossmann remember to put science and engineering in “context.”

“To think about how would this be expressed to someone who doesn’t already speak the language of equations. And maybe is there a visual way or a verbal way that we can actually both be excited about these ideas,” she said.

She said that being interested in engineering and literature makes her feel stronger.

“I’m happy that I am at a place like Lafayette where you can say I am an engineer that likes books. It’s rare here not to have something going on other than [one’s] field,” she said.

Rossmann is a co-author with Clive L. Dym for, “Introduction to Engineering Mechanics: A Continuum Approach, Second Edition.”

“My students get tired of hearing me say that ‘you have to explain this to someone…who doesn’t already live in your world….No matter what you’re learning or studying you should be able to express it in ways that are clear, no matter where someone else is coming from.'”

About Mario Sanchez

Mario Sanchez '21 is the Arts and Culture Editor for The Lafayette. He double-majors in English and Women & Gender Studies.

Leave a Reply

*