April 21, 2016  

Murphy Award: Eric Nauman

Eric Nauman

Eric Nauman, professor of mechanical engineering and biomedical engineering, professor of basic medical sciences (by courtesy) and director of College of Engineering Honors Programs. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)
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Five teachers have received Purdue's 2016 Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award in Memory of Charles B. Murphy. This week, Purdue Today will feature Q&A's on each of the recipients. This Q&A focuses on Eric Nauman, professor of mechanical engineering and biomedical engineering, professor of basic medical sciences (by courtesy) and director of College of Engineering Honors Programs.

Years at Purdue: 12.

Teaching interests: I've been very lucky in my teaching because I've been able to offer a wide variety of classes, focusing on topics like statics, dynamics, stem cells, disasters and even toy design. 

Goals as a professor: There are a lot of things I would like to accomplish. I want to make my classes memorable. I want to continue finding ways to integrate math, ethics, service and superheroes into my courses. But what I like the most is when a student emails me a few years after they graduate and tells me they used something they learned in my class. That is really good stuff.  

On developing instructional tools (lecture book, video examples, and video solutions) with colleagues for Basic Mechanics I class: Professor Charles Krousgrill inspired that effort, and the IMPACT class gave me a chance to think it through and figure out the best way to implement it. The initial response to the class is usually a bit of resistance because it's different from what they usually see. Eventually, most of them realize that they get to try things out in class where they can ask questions, and that saves them a lot of grief when it's time to do homework. Once that clicks, the students' overall performance improves, and we have seen the grades go up. Sometimes the administrators think it looks like grade inflation, but we are just getting the students through more high-quality practice sessions. 

On advancing course instruction and innovation as director of the College of Engineering Honors Program: We try to develop interesting activities that challenge the students and then see where they take them. More often than not, they come up with creative solutions to difficult problems, and we have to figure out how to challenge them even more the next time. 

How students' work with service activities, including SVAT/RAT EPICS and Adapt-If, affects their educational experience: The EPICS projects we work on provide students with the opportunity to do something meaningful in the world of assistive technologies. Each person that we work with is unique and there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. It really ratchets up the responsibility level for the students. They are beholden to me as the instructor but, more importantly, to the person who needs the device that they are working on. 

The most important lesson Nauman wants students to take away: In all honesty, one of the threads that goes through all my classes is that very complicated problems almost always can be broken down into basic, fundamental pieces. In order to do it well and solve those problems, you have to learn what those fundamental pieces are and be willing to ask uncomfortable questions. 

On being nominated and selected to receive the Murphy Award: It's difficult to put into words what an honor it is to be chosen. It's wonderful that Purdue has a program like this and I am grateful to the entire Purdue community. 

What his students say: The structure of this course is wonderful. I really enjoyed the way it was taught as well as the material that was covered. I stand by my opinion that Dr. Nauman is one of the best professors at Purdue, and know multiple students who share my opinion. … Professor's Nauman's teaching style is very effective and his outlook and enthusiasm about the class is unparalleled with any other professor I've had. He also allowed for a lot of class input by engaging us with questions and opinions. … Great teaching style. He facilitates interest in the subject and encourages deeper, less pattern-based learning. … Instructor tells stories that are relevant to class content also he has an interesting sense of humor that makes learning the material enjoyable. He uses real-world and fictional applications to help illustrate class work. That adds a practical dimension to learning which helps with understanding the material. 

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