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Hugh W. Munson

By Liz Crumbley

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 27 - April 6, 1995

"I started teaching in 1961 at West Point, and I'm teaching exactly the same way now--I give them work to do every day," said Hugh Munson, associate professor of Engineering Fundamentals (EF) and recipient of a 1995 W.E. Wine Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Munson has been named in the top 10 percent for teaching excellence in engineering each of his 18 years on the faculty at Virginia Tech. He has received six Certificates of Teaching Excellence, the University Sporn Award for Excellence in Teaching Introductory Subjects, and two College of Engineering Sporn Awards. During a sabbatical spent teaching in the Department of Civil Engineering at Mississippi State University during the 1990-1991 academic year, Munson was elected by students there to receive the Robert M. Scholtes Teaching Award.

Munson has been teaching fundamentals courses for the Virginia Tech College of Engineering since he retired from the U.S. Army in 1977 after 21 years of service that included three years as an instructor at West Point, two years in Viet Nam, four years as deputy and acting district engineer for the Army's Seattle Engineering District, and five years as a professor of military science at the Indiana Institute of Technology.

Aside from the regular EF classes, Munson also teaches a course in architectural engineering required for all architecture majors.

Some professors and students may find required, basic courses to be boring, but not Munson--even after 18 years--and not his students. "I'm never bored," he declared, "because the students are always new. And my students don't have time to be bored." Every day, in each class, Munson assigns about three homework problems. The next day, the class goes over the homework and takes a quiz. "They know what to expect," remarked Munson, who each semester teaches five classes totaling more than 200 students.

Munson's military background and his seemingly regimented class format shouldn't mislead those who wonder why he is a favorite among engineering students. The qualities most often cited by students in their evaluations of Munson are his sense of humor and willingness to take the time to help students, both as a teacher and an advisor. Aside from acting as academic advisor to more than 100 engineering freshmen every year, he is the faculty advisor for two fraternities. From 1985 to 1993, he taught a class of 40 high school students each summer for Tech's "What is Engineering?" minority program.

What does Munson enjoy about teaching? "Watching the students succeed," he said.

Earlier this year, a student who took Munson's EF courses 10 years ago wrote to him after seeing his name in an engineering magazine. "I have often said to people that if you had not been so willing to help and so understanding about my lack of ability with drafting, I would have probably dropped out of engineering altogether. I am very glad I didn't," wrote Sandra L. Scrivener, who earned her bachelor's and master's degrees at Tech and a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering at Penn State, and is now on the faculty at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. "I just wanted to say `thank you' . . . and to let you know that you did make a difference."

Munson has rarely spent time out of the company of young people; he and his wife have raised eight children.