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Ellsworth Fuhrman

By Sandy Broughton

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 27 - April 6, 1995

At a time when the media attack professors for teaching only small, upper-level courses, Ellsworth "Skip" Fuhrman turns that stereotype on its ear.

Fuhrman, professor of sociology and science and technology studies, teaches a wide variety of classes, ranging from introductory courses to advanced graduate seminars. He has taught 14 different undergraduate and 16 different graduate courses and developed 12 courses at Virginia Tech. As a full professor, Fuhrman recognizes the importance of having senior faculty members teaching large, undergraduate courses. At the same time, he contributes to graduate instruction through teaching and his student committee involvement.

At last count, he served on 80 percent of all committees within the Department of Sociology, and frequently serves on committees in other departments.

Fuhrman's average student evaluation score over the past four years has been 3.8 on a 4.0 scale. and many students, both graduate and undergraduate, have contributed unsolicited letters in support of his nomination for the Alumni Award for Teaching Excellence. Departmental colleague Carol Bailey says, "Professor Fuhrman never underestimates the ability of his students to learn. Instead of simplifying intricate ideas to make them more palatable to students, he successfully challenges his students to think, synthesize, write coherently, and master complex materials drawn from a myriad of disciplines. Students comment that in his classes they obtain a joy of learning, independent of pursuing a grade."

"The courses Dr. Fuhrman teaches are really a challenge. His style requires a person to think, synthesize, and then write about it coherently in a limited amount of space. At some point while in his course you forget about the grade and begin to pursue the knowledge for its own sake," wrote one student. "I feel Dr. Fuhrman is deserving of the highest commendations as a professor, and friend, of the student."

In his letter of nomination, Alumni Distinguished Professor William E. Snizek noted that Fuhrman took a multicultural approach to teaching, even before it became popular.

Fuhrman has also introduced new computer technology into the large lecture class, spending hundreds of hours learning and teaching others in the department to enhance their teaching. He has created more than 25 multimedia lectures for the large, introductory sociology course. They incorporate more than 1,000 slides, numerous film clips, and animated figures. The lectures were developed with a grant through the Center for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching (CEUT).

Fuhrman adds the Alumni Award for Teaching Excellence to a growing list of awards and accomplishments. He received the Certificate of Teaching Excellence from the College of Arts and Sciences in 1994, the Undergraduate Teaching Excellence Award from the sociology department in 1993, and the Fulbright-Hays Fellowship Research and Lecturing Award in 1983.