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Ramachandran’s First Book Garners Best Publication Award

Published: July 15, 2013

CSULB engineering librarian Hema Ramachandran was delighted to learn that her first co-authored book, Lifelong Learning for Engineers and Scientists in the Information Age, earned the 2013 Best Publication Award by the Engineering Libraries Division of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE).

Ramachandran, who has several previous peer-reviewed articles and a book chapter published, was gratified to receive several messages from engineering librarians around the country who have indicated that they will use the ideas presented in the book on their campus. She and co-authors Ashok Naimpally and Caroline Smith saw their book published last year by Elsevier, and Ramachandran and Naimpally were on hand at the annual ASEE national conference in June to receive the award.

If Naimpally’s name sounds familiar, he was a CSULB chemical engineering professor for nearly 30 years, also serving as department chair and special assistant to the provost. In 2007, he became dean of instruction for the Math, Science and Engineering Division at Fresno City College. Smith now is the head architecture studies librarian at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and a former colleague of Ramachandran when both were librarians at Caltech.

Hema Ramachandran The underlying focus is student success, Ramachandran said, and the book is the result of an earlier collaboration on engineering internships between Naimpally and CSULB Career Development Center Associate Director Robin Lee. Naimpally and Lee had developed the initial book synopsis, and Naimpally later invited Ramachandran to contribute content on information literacy.

The book provides engineering faculty, librarians, career development staff and even employers with resources and guidance to help students and interns learn about the importance of lifelong learning, in part to meet ABET engineering accreditation and the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) “Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education.” ACRL is a division of the American Library Association. Ramachandran and Smith contributed to sections addressing research methods and resources that support information literacy, while Naimpally focused on developing and managing internships—all of which contribute to lifelong learning.

“One of the major skill sets for lifelong learning is information literacy. If you know how to research a topic, that helps you be a lifelong learner,” Ramachandran said. “But the challenge for engineering students is that as soon as we graduate them, the information they know is already becoming dated because engineering is moving so fast. We can’t predict what their jobs will be like and they may have to change their specialty, for instance. But if we can give them the habit of lifelong learning and information literacy skills, then they’ll be able to research any topic that comes along.”

Moreover, information literacy skills can help students secure valuable internships and jobs. Ramachandran and Jina Lee Flores of the Career Development Center have had a longstanding collaboration on incorporating library resources into drop-in workshops for engineering students. A major outcome of their collaboration has been the development of an assignment for the ENGR 102 syllabus.

“For instance, you can use our databases like ABI/INFORM to find out about companies,” Ramachandran explained. “ABI/INFORM is our major business and management database and it’s updated on a daily basis. It has a lot of newspaper and journal articles and company information, so you can find out, let’s say, what nanotechnology companies there are in the L.A. area and what’s going on in nanotechnology.”

Hema Ramachandran
PHOTO COURTESY OF HEMA RAMACHANDRAN
Ashok Naimpally (l), a former CSULB engineering professor; and CSULB librarian Hema Ramachandran (r) were recently recognized for their book on lifelong learning for engineers. At center is Danny Overstreet of Knovel Corp.

In contacting potential internship or employer firms, “The student could say, ‘I see that you recently signed a contract in Beijing and I’m fluent in Chinese and I would love to work for an international company such as yours.’ This really enhances the student’s letter,” Ramachandran said. She tells students in her presentation to the ENGR 102 students: “If the Human Resources Department is getting 20 letters and they all sound the same, how are they going to separate you from the others? I’m hoping that by showing superior research skills that your letter will stand out.”

The authors also want readers to understand the importance of nurturing engineers’ creativity. “I think the reason people become engineers is because they’re creative and they want to solve problems,” Ramachandran noted. “Almost everything we encounter in our daily life was created by either a professional engineer or an inventor. You take anything—a paper clip—and somebody saw that there was a problem and they found a creative way to solve it.”

As tenure-track faculty members, CSU librarians must also undertake teaching, scholarship and campus service in addition to their library roles of collection management and reference services, said Ramachandran, who has more than 25 years of library experience including at an engineering company in London as well as at Caltech and Pasadena City College, and became tenured at CSULB in 2011. She earned her B.A. at the University of North London and M.L.S. at Florida State.

The book also brought Ramachandran another level of personal satisfaction, as the initial Elsevier editors were located in England, where she grew up, and the final editing was done in her birthplace of Chennai, India.

–Anne Ambrose