5 questions with… engineering student, community outreacher Rachel Laveson

As a mechanical engineering major, Rachel Laveson is accustomed to solving problems on the fly. In fact, that’s what drew her to engineering in the first place.

That skill has come in handy many times this summer for Laveson, who is interning in the Engineering Education Summer Outreach program.

Rachel LavesonThe program, which is run through the Leonard Gelfand STEM Center, matches six undergraduate students with different summer camps in Cleveland. The students, who work in pairs and each visit two sites, design and facilitate STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) lessons for students.

“Problem solving and thinking on my feet is definitely something that I’ve had to do a couple times,” she said.

One day, she and her partner, Precious Adeleye, planned to take their group of middle-school-aged boys to the computer lab so they could research STEM careers—only to discover the lab was double-booked when they got there.

With only five minutes before class began, Laveson came up with a lesson using paper airplanes to teach lift and drag.

In other instances, Laveson and Adeleye have discovered the lessons they had planned simply weren’t challenging enough for their bright students. Often, they only have a few minutes between classes to make adjustments to improve the lesson.

“The engineering design process is all about taking things, testing them and fixing them so they work better,” Laveson said. “I’ve definitely seen some of that in the summer planning.”

Teaching isn’t new to Laveson, who has been a tutor for Urban Squash Cleveland, a youth development organization that teaches inner-city youth the sport of squash and provides academic support, for the past two years through the Civic Engagement Scholars program. As part of the program, Laveson volunteers for at least 50 hours each academic year.

In both of her programs, Laveson enjoys hearing the questions students pose and watching as they make connections.

“One day, we taught a lesson and, you know, some lessons are more successful than others, and this one didn’t stand out to me as being particularly great,” she said. “But one of the kids, as he was leaving, he turned to us and he said, ‘Thank you for creating such a meaningful learning environment.’”

Get to know Laveson better in this week’s five questions.

1. What’s the best way to spend a summer day in Cleveland?

In the morning—depending on the day—I enjoy running and seeing different parts of Cleveland. In terms of breakfast, Luna Bakery and Café is one of my favorites. I really like the Shaker Square Farmer’s Market on Saturdays.

During the day, I can spend hours at the Cleveland Botanical Garden. In terms of dinner spots, I really like Fire in Shaker Square. Ultimately, the most important thing about a summer day is that you spend it with the people you like.

2. What motivates you to work hard?

In a lot of cases, it’s my team [Laveson is a cross country runner], my people. I’ve seen a lot of my teammates work through a lot of stuff in order to be able to keep running. That’s always really inspiring. So you work for yourself, you work for your team. You can be happy for the successes of your team, even if you’re not doing so well.

I think also there’s a certain belief that humans can push their boundaries. In academics, in athletics, I’ve definitely done things that I wouldn’t have thought were possible when I was in high school. It’s really cool to be able to keep progressing like that.

3. Who is your favorite character from a book, TV show or movie?

I’m a bookworm. My favorite character from a book has to be Stargirl, from the book of the same name. One thing about Stargirl is that she doesn’t have a real sense of societal norms. One of the first scenes you see her, she’s going around playing her ukulele, singing happy birthday to people in the lunchroom. She’s this sort of person everybody wishes they could be. She lives her life to make herself and other people happy.

4. What’s the most daring thing you’ve ever done?

Back in high school, my family would go to Vermont in the summers on vacation. One of the places they have near the place we go is a big quarry that’s a swimming pool. It’s got this huge cliff—20 feet up, maybe 30. It definitely seemed like more at the time. I’m terrified of heights and so I’m just sort of standing there, looking over the precipice to my certain doom, I’m sure. But eventually, I jumped. It’s one of those things that doesn’t seem so bad after the fact, but I can remember just being absolutely terrified. I suppose I’m not a hugely daring person.

5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?

To say the people is so cliché, but I think it’s definitely the people. In addition to the people, it’s the ability to ask questions—and ask meaningful questions. College is somewhere where you want to be able to ask questions, to have real discussions. One thing that I’ve found about CWRU students is that they love asking questions. Students are willing to ask for and give advice and that’s really something that I’ve enjoyed and taken advantage of.