ERIE, Pa. — A long time ago (on Wednesday), in a galaxy far, far away (her guest bedroom, actually), Charlotte de Vries, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Penn State Behrend, got into the cockpit of an X-wing fighter, tightened the strap on her crash helmet, and began her class.
De Vries teaches system dynamics and instrumentation. The material can be challenging, and when Penn State transitioned to a period of remote learning, hoping to slow the spread of COVID-19, she worried about some of her students.
“They were under a lot of stress,” she said. “We all were. I wanted to do something that would make this a little more fun.”
She had set up a temporary teaching space in the guest room of her Erie home. In the closet were her Halloween costumes, including a replica “Star Wars” rebel-pilot helmet. She put it on.
De Vries is one of several Penn State Behrend faculty members who have experimented with custom backgrounds in Zoom, the video-conferencing program most are using to communicate with students.