Professor lures students to class using overly engineered ice cream utensils


By Jack McClellan

The Midnight Scoop is an ergonomic ice cream scooper (in the middle). It was designed and “over-engineered” by Mechanical and Aerospace Engineer, Michael Chou.

Jack Mcclellan

One Professor in the English department at Iowa State utilized ISU Creamery ice cream to lure students to class on the last day before break.

The ice cream social was centered around the Midnight Scoop, an ergonomically designed ice cream scoop, built to ease the process of scooping solid served ice cream. The event took place during the usual meeting time for a technical communications class, English 314.

For Jennifer Knox, associate teaching professor in the English department, the Midnight Scoop presented an opportunity to boost student engagement while keeping students thinking about their technical descriptions and upcoming technical proposals.

Micheal Chou, the creator of the Midnight Scoop and a Mechanical and Aerospace Engineer, reportedly over-engineered the midnight scoop, obsessing over the most minor details of the design. The ergonomic scooper is designed to protect the user’s wrist while scooping through even the hardest ice cream.

According to Knox, using engineering principles to redesign a tool is very relevant to the topics of the technical writing course. Now that break has ended, students will be focusing on creating technical proposals to implement beneficial changes to the mechanisms or processes that shape life on campus, not unlike how Chou redesigned and improved the basic ice cream scooper.

“Showing [the students] that this is a product that someone with your level of expertise made for people without your level of expertise. And we can use it with products that we have right here at Iowa State there,” Knox said. “I love ice cream too and I love the Creamery and I love the people who run it and I would love to bring those two worlds together more.”

The activity also tied the technical writings students had been working on together with the upcoming assignment to create technical proposals. The Midnight Scoop is a good example of technical know-how being implemented into everyday life.

As the class period began, Knox busted out several flavors from the ISU Creamery, including Lunar Lavender. Knox also had the Midnight Scoop and several other control scoops out, in order to compare their capacities for clean scoops. 

Students cycled through to try their hands at the scoop and obtain some ice cream. In the end, most students seemed to agree that the Midnight Scoop was the superior scooper, but the focus was primarily on the various ice creams.

One student, Jaden Neubauer, a junior in aerospace engineering, explained how the technicalities of the Midnight Scoop compared to the process he was currently writing on.

“There’s still a lot behind this scoop, whether or not it is just a hunk of metal in the end, but I like the idea of it and all that,” Neubauer said. “I think it was a good way to, I guess show the technical process for what we’re doing because, like Miss Knox said earlier, it’s a mechanism versus what I’m talking about, which is a process. So those two are going to have a different way in which you approach them.”

While Neubauer’s technical document outlining the process behind CRISPR is much more complicated than anything regarding the Midnight Scoop could be, the contrast does provide some insight into how technical thinking can impact non-technical activities.

Another student, Roark Martin, a junior in aerospace engineering, talked about how the ice cream social added to the classroom experience.

“Well, I think it was big with student engagement,” Martin said. “I mean, obviously, I don’t think there would be this many people here on a Friday afternoon before spring break if there wasn’t ice cream involved. I mean, it gets people in here to work on their papers.”