Professor Keith J. Bowman uses them all to help his students understand the physics and engineering principles behind this complex subject.
Bowman's unconventional approach has attracted students, boosting enrollment in Purdue University's School of Materials Engineering. His efforts also earned him a Charles B. Murphy Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award this year from Purdue, one of five given annually.
His students tell the story in the comments that accompanied his nomination:
Bowman's teaching philosophy and his methods stem in part from experiences he had as a college student.
"As a student, I was frustrated with science and engineering classes that weren't as interactive as some of my humanities courses were," Bowman says. "There's no reason a science or engineering class has to be just note generation.
"Now as an instructor, I realize it's much easier to stand in front of the class and write notes on the board, but it doesn't encourage your students to think very much. Very few students think about the concepts as they're writing them down. It's my job to stimulate students' interest in the material."
About a year after he joined the faculty, Bowman was asked to represent his department as a lecturer in Engineering 100. The course is required for all first-year engineering students to help them choose a specific engineering discipline to pursue. Representatives from each of Purdue's engineering schools come to class to talk about their respective fields, introducing students to concepts they will encounter in each field of study, career opportunities and statistics about job placement.
"You know what the students called the course? 'Sleep 100,' because it can be a little dry," Bowman says. "I couldn't imagine I'd want to go."
When it came his turn to do the Engineering 100 lecture, Bowman made even the driest of subjects interesting -- he used Slinkys, Silly Putty, Tinker Toys, basketballs, golf clubs and commodes to illustrate concepts from his field. After he started doing the class lectures, the material engineering school's undergraduate enrollment more than doubled, from 43 in the 1986-87 school year to 109 in 1992-93. Enrollment in each of the past two years was in the upper 90s.
"The demonstrations get people's attention," he says. "We don't necessarily want all the students in the class to major in materials engineering, but we hope they will either enroll in some materials courses as electives or develop a positive attitude toward what materials engineers do, because at some point they're going to have to work with them."
When Bowman came to Purdue about eight years ago, his teaching style fit right in. He joined the faculty shortly after the School of Materials Engineering began to change its curriculum to better meet the needs of students and to be more in touch with the needs of industry. He has been instrumental in redesigning the curriculum, developing four new courses of his own.
"Instead of luring potential students to the program by telling them they won't have to take a lot of difficult math or science, we say, 'Come to our department because it's going to be difficult, it's challenging,'" he says. "We want those students who want to be challenged."
Bowman teaches both undergraduate and graduate students. He also team teaches lower-level courses with several colleagues, an approach Bowman says benefits both students and instructors.
"As an instructor, it's important to see how others teach," he says. "Encouragement by example in our school is very strong. Team teaching brings an important lesson to the students as well, which is to recognize that different perspectives lead to different ways of solving a problem."
Bowman encourages and counsels students who are struggling in his classes, and he tries to work with them if personal problems affect their class performance. In one case, he tutored a sophomore student who was having a hard time because of her lack of background knowledge. Impressed with her determination and spirit to learn and succeed, he wrote her a letter of encouragement when she had to sit out a semester.
"It's important that she knew someone cared," Bowman says.
"One of the most gratifying things for me as a teacher is to see students go from barely passing to graduation," he says. For example, Bowman spent a great deal of time with three students who were on the verge of being dropped. He initiated a one-hour meeting every week with each student to review their progress. The students all have graduated, and one of them is attending graduate school.
Bowman says he learned the importance of interaction with students when he was a student and resident director at one of the dorms at Case Western University.
"As a resident director, I learned about the problems students face, their different backgrounds, and I got an appreciation for how people deal with problems on a daily basis," he says.
"I know how important it is to have someone pay attention, especially at a large university."
Source: Keith J. Bowman, (765) 494-6316; home, (765) 463-9464; Internet, email@example.com
Writer: Amanda Siegfried, (765) 494-4709; home, (765) 497-1245; Internet, firstname.lastname@example.org
NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: A color feature photo of Keith J. Bowman in his office is available from Purdue News Service, (765) 494-2096. The photo also can be downloaded from a web server at https://www.purdue.edu/uns
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