Friday, October 29, 2010

Bright lights, big city

Houston, Texas. George. R. Brown Convention Center.

In October, I staffed the booth of the engineering program for which I am coordinator, along with several  magnificent graduate students and even a postdoc. Our job was to raise awareness of this great program among promising engineering undergraduates and, as importantly, among the cognescenti and industrial players of this discipline.

For someone who spends 98 percent of her working week in a small office facing a computer, it was  a heady—and somewhat exhausting—experience. The students who visited the booth were directed, articulate, intelligent, and confident. Made a few good contacts that I will pursue judiciously One surprise coincidence and another reminder that the world is truly a small place was a Native American student now in her last undergraduate year of engineering at a college in the Midwest. It turns out that my junior-year college roommate was one of her elementary school teachers in northeast Arizona. .

The layout and "swag" of other booths was interesting. Among the promotional item: small levels, pens, lip balm, letter opener/screen cleaners, desks of cards. Our booth gave out imprinted pads and pens, along with our literature. We attracted people with a big bowl of candy.

The booth backdrop was three 7 x 3-foot retractable posters which roll up into a package the size of a quiver of arrows. the posters are held open by a three-part elastic-corded pole in back (like a tent pole).

Monday evening was an alumni reception attended by one of the Deans of Engineering. It was wonderful seeing several graduated students again. So proud of the way they have made their way in the world.

About a quarter of the expo floor was devoted to a materials camp. Houston schoolchildren of all ages came to see materials science in action, including a shape memory alloy engine of Nitinol. Every child came away with a pair of safety glasses, which they found all kinds of ways to wear as they left the hall: atop the head, backwards on the head, folded with earpiece hooked over the front of the shirt, on the forehead. Many even left with their safety glasses firmly in place.

Many of us stayed at an adjacent hotel. Maybe I'm  an unsophisticated rube, but when one is paying $189/night (and that's the discounted rate), ethernet and wi-fi in the room should be free. And the fitness center should not charge a sawbuck (that's $10) to grind away on their meager treadmills. Heck, the fleabag down the road from me advertises free wi-fi. Campgrounds have free wi-fi, for goodness sake. Yes, the rooms were gorgeously appointed; the down comforter and pillows, the Crabtree and Evelyn sundries in the bathroom, but the ethernet cable just say their mocking me. I sensed that room ethernet was not free when every available seat in the opulent lobby was filled with engineers tapping away at their laptops. The contiguous convention center, though, provided great wi-fi. It was an eerie Tuesday evening sitting alone in the cavernous three city blog-long George R. Brown Convention Center using their wi-fi to catch up on e-mail.

But, it is so good to be home!

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