Click here for updates on the evolving COVID-19 situation at Rice
Rice University’s Student Newspaper — Since 1916

Wednesday, January 27, 2021 — Houston, TX 46°

What's Their Secret

By Jennifer Shen     9/28/11 7:00pm

Rumored to perform the best bike tricks no other professor can do, James McLurkin, an associate professor at the Computer Science department, is best known for his cool little robots, being funny and  his easygoing personality.

McLurkin received his bachelor's, master's, and Ph.D. degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and another master's from the University of California, Berkeley. Having taught at M.I.T. and the University of Washington, McLurkin said what drew him to Rice was the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen.

"The Design Kitchen is a world-class facility, but what makes it unique is that it is geared towards enhancing the undergraduate experience," McLurkin said. "In fact, I was asked to come up with a course in OEDK that would utilize its resources, and I wouldn't teach ENGI 128 anywhere else."

This year marks McLurkin's second year of teaching ENGI 128: Introduction to Engineering Systems, a course specifically designed to introduce freshmen to different aspects of engineering.

For ENGI 128, McLurkin utilizes a series of unconventional methods to get students involved and motivated. He gives out prizes to the winners of the design challenges, including gift cards to the Chocolate Bar and Harry Potter lego sets. In order to keep track of exactly how often each student participates, McLurkin gives a poker chip to the student who asks or answers a question, counts them at the end of the semester, and gives participation grades accordingly.

McLurkin said he loves answering students' questions.

"I enjoy the most when the students ‘get it,'" McLurkin said. "When you can see the questions they have had for the past 10 years about some engineering systems [are answered]."

McLurkin said even though it was difficult for him to handle the diversity of students' previous experiences in different types of engineering, he wanted everyone  to be up to speed and challenged; at the same time, he hopes that this class can show students how much fun engineering is.

"[Engineering] is hard and a lot of work and complicated," McLurkin said. "But it's fun ... [and] we learn how to manage that complexity."

In his spare time, McLurkin has enjoyed many pastimes.

"I used to play video games, I used to ride my motorcycle and bicycle, I used to play with my little trains ... I used to sleep," McLurkin said.

McLurkin said that recently he has had to give up these hobbies temporarily in order to focus on his role as a professor.

"I set sight on being a professor in 1999," McLurkin said. "It was literally 10 years towards this goal, so right now, I want to be a successful professor, and I think for now it's worth trading [my hobbies] to get a balance among papers, proposal, research, teaching and mentoring students."

In addition to teaching and research, McLurkin is also an active associate at McMurtry College, where he organizes an Urban Cycling program, in which he teaches students about bike control and how to navigate a bike safely around Houston.

"What's Their Secret?" is a weekly feature that highlights a faculty member who has had a significant impact on Rice students.

More from The Rice Thresher

NEWS 3/1/14 4:14am
SA General Elections rerun results in different outcome

The Student Association General Elections rerun resulted in a win for Ravi Sheth, a write-in candidate. Sheth, a Martel College junior, ran in the SA General Elections after the first election was appealed and ruled “partially invalid” by the University Court.The Student Association Elections Committee reran the General Elections and merged it with the previously scheduled SA Internal Vice President Elections. The rerun elections closed Feb. 28 at 11:59 p.m.Sheth said he was excited and humbled by the amount of support he got as a write-in candidate. He also said he was impressed with the level of voter turnout from the entire student body.“I think there was 1636 votes; that’s more than was seen in 2009, and [I think the turnout in 2009 was more than Rice] had seen in a decade, so this might be one of the highest voter turnout elections in Rice history,” Sheth said. “I’m really excited to see that level of student involvement and turnout, and I think it puts the [Student Association] in a really great position because we now have the attention and the engagement of the student body and I think that will really allow us to do great things over the next year.”Sheth will assume the role of SA president at Changeover on Monday, March 10. He said he already has ideas about what he wants to do during his term.“I have a list [of things I’d like to get accomplished in the next year], but I think a lot of them need to have buy-in from different parties before we officially announce them,” Sheth said. “I will be opening up creative proposals for something to do with the SA iPad because that should never have been bought with student money, so we’ll find something productive and good to do with it.”SA presidential candidate Trent Navran, who won the original election, said he was frustrated by the decision to rerun the election. He said he was initially disappointed by the outcome of the most recent election, but ultimately feels confident that Sheth will be a good SA president.“I was really impressed to see the energy that Ravi helped excite on campus, and the fact that so many people were talking about elections and that there was so much buzz was exciting,” Navran said. “As a friend and as someone who I’ve worked with, I think Ravi will make a fantastic president. I’m very proud of him and I look forward to working with him in a lot of capacities.”Although he did not win this election, Navran said he learned a lot about himself during the elections process, and he will use that insight to continue serving the Rice student body in other ways.“President or not, I’m really excited because I know I can still make a big impact on campus,” Navran said. “I’m going to be focusing a lot on social innovation and social entrepreneurship, which is something that happens a lot at Rice, but I want to work to build more of an identity and more programming and resources around that. It’s something I’ve cared about and expressed recently in my campaign, but I think I have valued and will now be able to focus on as a senior.”Baker College junior Abby Gordon won the race for SA Internal Vice President. The remainder of the items on the ballot were also rerun. A full list of the results, according to an email sent to the Rice community by current SA President Yoonjin Min, can be see below. ReferendumsThe referendum on the Ratification of the SA Constitution passed.The referendum on the Honor Council’s Proposed Constitutional Amendment passed.The referendum on the Rice Environmental Society’s Proposed New Blanket Tax failed, because it failed to get a majority in favor that was greater than two thirds of votes cast on the item.The referendum on Rice Catalyst’s Proposed New Blanket Tax without the Sunset Clause failed, because it failed to get a majority in favor that was greater than two thirds of votes cast on the item.The referendum on Rice Catalyst’s Proposed New Blanket Tax with the Sunset Clause failed, because it failed to get a majority in favor that was greater than two thirds of votes cast on the item.Elections for positionsRavi Sheth won the election for Student Association President.Abby Gordon won the election for Student Association Internal Vice President.Amritha Kanakamedala won the election for Student Association External Vice President.Olivia Hsia won the election for Student Association Secretary.Joan Liu won the election for Student Association Treasurer.Cathy Hu and Pooja Yesantharao won the election for RSVP Chair.Joann Pan won the election for RSVP Internal Vice Chair.Brian Baran won the election for University Court Chair.Aisha Jeeva won the election for Rice Program Council President.Sal Tijerina won the election for KTRU Station Manager.Miles Kruppa won the election for Thresher Editor-in-Chief.Rachel Gray won the election for RTV5 Station Manager.Lauren Thompson won the election for RTV5 Program Director.Julia Liu and Isabelle Lelogeais won the election for Honor Council Senior Class Representative.Michael Williams Hart, Josiah Grace and Seth Lauer won the election for Honor Council Junior Class Representative.Claire Bonnyman and Luke Van Der Spoel won the election for Honor Council Sophomore Class Representative.

NEWS 11/29/12 6:00pm
Affirmation: The Future of Admissions

Fisher v. The University of Texas has revived one of the most polemical debates in America: whether race can be used as a factor in admissions to institutes of higher education. This issue undoubtedly resonates at Rice University, which, like most American universities, factors an applicant's ethnicity when selecting its freshman class. While the arguments concerning affirmative action are widely known, a true understanding of the issue requires both legal and historical background.


Please note All comments are eligible for publication by The Rice Thresher.