sealPurdue News

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October 1995

Award-winning professor reels in ag engineering students

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Professor Gary Krutz is an award-winning ag engineering teacher with a gift of gab that would make a salesman jealous.

Get him talking about students and his philosophy of teaching, and he has so much to say that he'll leave sentences dangling as he jumps from topic to topic. He winks as he makes a point, and he ends every other sentence with "OK."

That energy and enthusiasm in the classroom earned him a Charles B. Murphy Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award this year from Purdue University, one of five given annually. It also has paid off for his department, where he leads a recruiting effort that increased enrollment from 53 in May 1991 to about 200 in May 1994.

As a recruiter, he gives speeches to high-school classes about the physics of fishing and of popcorn; sends out about 1,000 letters a year to vocational agriculture teachers in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and Michigan; and forges links with industry.

As a teacher, he is the academic adviser for every student in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, has written a textbook called "Machine Design for Mobile and Industrial Applications," has designed all three courses that he now teaches, and puts out a newsletter for students called "Krutz's Korner."

All his teaching and recruiting efforts are driven by the belief that students know a lot more than we give them credit for.

"I tell my students right off that I'm not smarter than them -- I just have 25 years more experience," he says. "And I really believe that, OK? A big part of my job is to build their confidence, to give them positive reinforcement.

"Students can tell what they're getting. They can pick up right away if a professor comes to class unprepared, OK?

"When I first came to Purdue, I didn't know much about teaching, so I took a course from Sam Shermis in the Department of Education, and he became my mentor. He taught me that every time I begin a class, I have to make clear to the students why they're there and why I'm there."

A story about "The Physics of Fishing" shows how he's taken those lessons to heart. The presentation is a slide show about bait color, fishing poles, reels, lines, how depth finders work and other aspects of fishing and how they all relate to physics. Krutz makes the presentation several times a year to high-school science classes across the state as part of the School of Agriculture's Professors in the Classroom program to discuss Purdue and career opportunities.

"So I'm giving this presentation for the first time, and I see that about 35 percent of the kids aren't listening -- I mean, they've really tuned me out, OK? -- and I ask myself 'Why are they here and why am I here?'

"Well, I see that it's mostly females who aren't listening, so the next time I give the presentation, as soon as I start talking, I start fiddling with my tie, and as I talk more I fiddle with it more -- you know, the nervous, absent-minded professor kind of thing. So I start out asking what major holiday is coming up, and I fiddle with my tie some more and ask them what they're going to give their dads for the holiday, OK? And usually some bright kid will catch on and say she's going to give him a TIE, and then they all realize that they've been had.

"Then I tell them I've got enough ties and shirts, and their dads and brothers and uncles and boyfriends probably have, too, but if they want to give those people something they really could use, some good fishing equipment, then they'd better pay attention to what I'm saying. And they do, OK?"

He also gives a lecture each semester to the 1,700 or so students enrolled in Purdue's Freshman Engineering curriculum, about 5 percent of whom will wind up in agricultural engineering. "I guess the key message is 'We're human, and we'll treat you like humans,'" he says. "But I also emphasize that starting salaries are high -- they average about $38,500 -- and that we have one of the highest placement rates in engineering -- better than 90 percent.

"I also tell them that we're the only engineering department that requires that they take biology courses, eight credits of cell biology and microbiology, and that they'll be advised by a faculty member who has experience in the career, not by a professional counselor."

Judging by the enrollment figures, the students are listening.

Here are some excerpts from letters from seniors nominating Krutz for the Murphy award:

"He presents the material in class with relation to real-world problems, he is available outside class for help, he is enthusiastic about his class, and he makes it easy to learn ... Dr. Krutz is a big reason why I am in agricultural engineering."

Source: Gary Krutz, (765) 494-1179; home (765) 463-5704; Internet, krutz@ecn.purdue.edu

Writer: Frank J. Koontz, (765) 494-2080; home, (765) 742-8371; Internet, frank_koontz@purdue.edu

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: A color feature photo of Gray Krutz in his office is available from Purdue News Service, (765) 494-2096. The photo also can be downloaded from a web server at http://www.purdue.edu/uns


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