Meet Your Future Instructor: Dr. Carolin Fink

Carolin Fink headshot

Part of what distinguishes our online programs at The Ohio State University is our focus on faculty. The exceptional instructors who teach our online courses are passionate about students and invested in your educational experience.

Dr. Carolin Fink, assistant professor in the Master of Science in Welding Engineering program, talked to us about how one of the first distance education programs on campus became a well-oiled machine and how it felt to be the first female faculty member in the program.

Tell us about yourself.
I’ve been at Ohio State for almost five years now since I started as a postdoctoral researcher in the same program. I grew up in Germany and did my PhD in mechanical engineering at the Otto-von-Guericke University in Magdeburg. That’s about an hour and a half south-west of Berlin. My thesis research focused specifically on welding engineering.

My dad was instrumental for me going into an engineering field, but welding really was because of a professor I had as an undergraduate student. He was so enthusiastic about the work, that I started working as an undergrad research assistant in his group. I liked the field and the people I worked with, so that I continued on all the way through graduate school in that same group.

I think a lot of times it’s people that influence a young person to take a certain path in life, so my dad and this professor did that for me.

What brought you to Ohio State?
Besides the teaching part, the Welding Engineering program at Ohio State has a very good reputation in research, and faculty or students were always present when I went to international conferences during my PhD. I was lucky enough to be sponsored by my university and the German Welding Society (DVS) to present my research on an international level. John Lippold, a distinguished member of the engineering faculty at Ohio State, approached me at one of those conferences and asked me if I wanted to do a postdoc. I said yes immediately, even though I hadn't quite finished my PhD. I was very excited. I came here to Columbus and immediately liked the program a lot. I did 18 months of a postdoc and then a faculty position opened up.

Tell us about the Welding Engineering program.
Welding engineering is really growing as a program because it is so unique at Ohio State, and there are very few welding engineering programs nationally, but also worldwide. Ohio State actually has the only ABET accredited undergraduate program. I was the first woman to get hired into the welding engineering program. After me, we hired two more junior faculty into the program, one of them being female.

How do you feel about being the first woman hired into the department?
It is something that I can certainly be proud of. We talk about the importance of equal gender representation and providing role models. I think our rate is still only about 6 or 7% female students, one of the lowest in the College of Engineering. But this year, in my intro metallurgy class (WE4101/7101), we have 12 female students, which is an absolutely new thing for us. So, I think having a female faculty member, and now a second one, really has an impact on how female students see their opportunities and their career in this field. They really get excited about it.

What is your area of expertise, and what classes do you teach?
I'm a metallurgist, so I’m on the materials side of welding. My expertise is in weld cracking, but really, I look at any defect that can evolve that’s associated with the materials that we weld. I'm an experimentalist, but I also use computational modeling tools increasingly to cut down on experimental effort.

In the spring semester, I teach Welding Metallurgy I (WE4101/7101), which is a required undergraduate course, and in the fall semester I teach a tech-elect class on Weldability (WE4112/7112). Most of our classes in the program are actually combined classes of undergraduate students, graduate students and distance students. Our students are really “jacks-of-all-trades,” they need to know about a lot of different things, but materials are certainly a key part. You need to know what you're doing with the material, because in a lot of cases welding degrades the weld properties due to high temperatures and/or high pressures used to join it.

What are some of the benefits to offering such a unique program in a distance education format?
A lot of people who have a college degree in mechanical engineering or materials science end up doing something welding-related in their companies. Often, they have to grow into this role without having actual education on it, so that’s how a lot of people find our program.

Some students have already had 15 years or more of industry experience. They've seen a lot of case studies and a lot of failures and day-to-day production issues that they had to deal with, without even knowing the fundamentals behind it. When they finally learn the fundamentals behind these issues, they get very excited.

What’s your favorite part about teaching in an online program?
Distance students really bring a lot of industry expertise into the classroom. They oftentimes share case studies with the undergraduate and graduate students via discussion boards. They post pictures showing how they solved an issue, or they’ll bring up something they want to discuss, which I think is very valuable. Sometimes, I can get their permission to use the material that they provide for future classes, so I can provide real-life examples for other students. It brings something from the field into the classroom.

Fink and undergraduate welding engineering student Sydney Coates are recognized by the College of Engineering.
What do you see as the biggest strength of the online welding engineering program?
One of the biggest benefits to our program is how open we are with communication. We're a small program, so it’s a very personal experience. Distance students are not hesitant at all about shooting me an email to discuss something, which is a good thing. They're very open to interacting with professors. And the professors see it as a responsibility to interact with these students.

Nobody is saying "That's not part of my job." That's not how we think. We extend this personal experience to the distance education program just like we do for our on-campus students.