By Sally Harris
Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 26 - April 2, 1998
"Dr. Brown invested in me."
Students who supported Ezra "Bud" Brown's nomination for the Wine Award for Excellence in Teaching spoke of him as someone who, as Rhodes Scholar Mark Embree put it, invested in their lives. They saw him as a friend who went many extra miles, regardless of personal inconvenience to himself, to ensure they got an education tailored to their specific needs whether they were the elite, the disadvantaged, or the average of mathematics students.
The need, for example, of a curious group of exceptional students who wanted to discuss factoring large integers. Brown met with them weekly.
The need of a student who wanted to continue a summer research program at Virginia Tech. Brown served as her volunteer advisor.
The need of a student whose deficiencies in abstract algebra were hindering her learning of Galois theory. Brown reviewed the previous material.
The need of a student out of school due to illness. Brown taught him vector geometry by e-mail.
The need of a student already past the material in a required class. Brown, realizing the student would be bored, supervised an independent study instead.
"Bud Brown has a great heart, and that heart is the well-spring from which his wonderful work with students flows," wrote Charles Dudley, director of the University Honors Program. Brown "has advised students, swept walks, shoveled snow, served food, held mock interviews, and advised some more," making a "year-in, year-out commitment and action to quality," Dudley said.
Brown, known for his humor, music, unabashed performances in classes, and the biscuits he bakes for students, has many fans among peers as well as students. Eileen Shugart, departmental GTA coordinator, said of Brown's work with the graduate-teaching certification and teaching-mentor programs, "Bud Brown has had a strong positive influence on many of our best graduate teaching assistants and through them has made a wonderful contribution to the educational experience of countless students at Virginia Tech." Graduate-teaching-assistant George Moss agrees: "His concern for the students set an example that I try to follow."
Brown has won the Diggs Teaching Scholar Award and the Certificate of Teaching Excellence, was leader at an NSF workshop for high-school teachers, helped initiate calculus courses for students with poor math backgrounds, and has served on many university committees. Leon Geyer, past president of the Faculty Senate, says that, "with humor, tact, and intellectual thinking, he has...made this a better place for students and faculty members."
Brown, said student Nicholas Loehr, "is an extraordinary man whose many talents are surpassed only by the greatness of his personality."
By Lynn Nystrom
"Competing with Nintendo-64." This is one of the ways teaching award winner Ron Kander laughingly describes what it is like to be an engineering professor in the classroom today.
Today's students are accustomed to multimedia presentation of information and active learning environment--causing them to think differently from the students of the `60s and `70s.
Consequently, Kander subscribes to the idea of a paradigm shift in how engineers think, and this shift is responsible for his innovative way of teaching the future generations of problem solvers. His teaching style has earned him numerous awards including this year's Wine Award and subsequent induction into the Academy of Teaching Excellence.
Kander's classroom approach, in large part, stems from his undergraduate days at Carnegie-Mellon, when he found time as an engineering student to serve as a teaching assistant in several cognitive-psychology classes. "I learned how we use our brain to solve problems, the engineer's trademark," he said.
Today, when he walks into a classroom, one of the first things he attempts to do is determine the types of thinkers in his class. "Are they cerebral or limbic? Are they analytic or cognitive? The idea is to figure out how to deliver my course material so that everyone has an equal shot at learning," Kander said.
The Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) faculty member describes his thinking process as not being stereotypical of an engineering professor. "I'm more emotive, sensory, and pattern matching." He adds that most engineering faculty members highlight their thought processes with such words as logical, linear, and analytical.
The paradigm shift Kander speaks of is a reflection of the information technology age of the `90s. "Engineers of the '80s were drivers and organizers. Now they have more of a systems mentality. Thirty years ago, knowledge alone was power. Today, information flows more easily, so it is more important to learn how you process knowledge efficiently. That is now the real power," Kander says.
To Kander, his success as a teacher comes by teaching students how to learn. "What students know today won't in itself make them more marketable; but how well they can process what they know will."
Kander's love for innovative teaching secured him a part time administrative position as the head of the College of Engineering's Green Engineering Program. Green Engineering demands that the members of the profession look at entire processes, and ensure that any materials used are as sensitive to the environment as possible, and that when a material or a product is no longer useful, there is a safe method of disposal.
"I want students to understand that environmental responsibility and engineering are not at odds. You can do both and good engineering involves good environmental design," Kander says. "As part of the '90s, engineers are designing processes to eliminate waste production rather than having to re-mediate waste."